Deer Crossing

Deer aren’t just a nuisance to gardeners, leaping over tall fences to munch on vegetation, they’re also a hazard to drivers.

On a midsummer night on 495 North, Emily Ijams was driving home from work. Then her car, a 2013 Toyota corolla, was totalled. The cause? A Deer.

“It jumped right into my driver’s side headlight,” said Emily. “I would have expected it to swerve my car out of the lane. So obviously I was really lucky.”

No one was hurt except the deer, but the car behind her pulled to the side of the road with her to wait for a tow truck. Her story is more common than you might think.

Every year, hundreds of drivers in Massachusetts collide with Deer. More than 2,000 incidents have occurred since January 2016. As of September of 2019, 465 collisions had already been reported. More than fifty of the reported collisions between January 2016 and September 2019 involved police cruisers.    

There were 100 more reported collisions between 2016 and 2018, and 2019 is on track to be higher even than the numbers reported in 2018.

David Stainbrook, a Deer and Moose Project Leader for the Masachusetts Division of Fisheries & Wildlife said that he would expect more collisions in the fall. During a presentation on October 20, 2019, he explained that in the fall, 1.5 year old male deer move to new territory. This is the only time that deer will leave their home range. Home ranges for deer are about 1-3 square miles, he said.

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In the last three years, there has been a consistent increase in collisions in the fall, as Stainbrook expected, but there is also a similar increase in reported collisions in June, which was when Ijams had her accident with the deer on 495.

The location of Ijams accident is also notable. Stainbrook said he would expect to see more collisions to the West of I-495.

Above, you can use the window at the upper left corner to look at yearly collision numbers in each town.

The reason for the separation along 495, he explained during the presentation, is that populations of deer are being managed more effectively. There are more avenues of access for regulated hunting strictly during the fall to control deer populations in the Western part of the state.

If not controlled in some manner, deer populations will increase constantly until the population reaches the point of starvation, Stainbrook explained during the presentation. In areas where the deer population is being managed, towns have seen a decrease in car collisions, he said.  

In the East, there are fewer avenues of access for hunters to control the population, and the impact of deer browsing on forests to the East of 495 are above a normal range, he said.

The exact number of deer in any given area cannot be calculated easily, but observing significant impacts on the forest indicate that the population is higher than the forest can tolerate, he said. A larger population of deer means it is more likely that some will wander onto a road and get hit.

Whatever the cause, the unexpected summer increase indicates that drivers should try to be as vigilant about deer in June as they are in the fall.  

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