Monday, October 28, 2002

Deer a danger to drivers

Motorists on I-275, I-74 and Ohio 32 should be especially wary

By Susan Vela
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Deer are propagating faster than hunters and predators can kill them in the Tristate, leading to more collisions with drivers and forcing some officials to consider drastic measures to reduce their numbers.

For drivers, the risk of crashing into a deer is worst along the expressways in Anderson and Colerain townships in Hamilton County, in Miami and Batavia townships in Clermont, and in northern and western parts of Cincinnati.

Deer crash 'hot spots'
Those areas tallied the most deer collisions in 2001 among the four Southwest Ohio counties, according to statistics gathered by the Ohio State Highway Patrol.

"They're on the road constantly. They almost look at you and laugh," said Elsie Milton of Whitewater Township, an area that experienced 57 deer-car collisions in 2001.

Anderson and Colerain led with 92 each, mainly along stretches of Interstate 275. Throughout the four Ohio counties, there were a total of 2,191 deer-car crashes last year, up 7 percent from 2000.

Across Ohio, the increase was even higher; the 31,600 reported crashes were up 17 percent from 2000.

On average, each collision causes about $2,000 in damage, according to Columbus-based Ohio Insurance Institute, making the total damage about $63.2 million.

Meanwhile, deer populations in Ohio and Kentucky have swelled dramatically.

This year, Ohio has an estimated 575,000 deer - more than 40 percent more than in 1998. Kentucky's deer population almost doubled to 850,000 in that same period, while Indiana's has held steady at about 300,000, according to wildlife authorities.

Turning hunters loose

Ohio and Kentucky wildlife officials are so concerned about decimated farmland and vegetation that they're permitting more aggressive hunting this year, and Hamilton County Park District officials want sharpshooters to prowl three forests and kill pregnant deer almost nightly during January and February.

Some residents, too, have lost their patience with the gentle but voracious creatures.

This year, Ms. Milton invited hunters onto her Whitewater Township property. She's fed up with the animals that topple her patio furniture to eat fallen acorns.

"I'll even buy (the hunters) coffee if that helps," she said. "These sweet little deer have now turned into wild billy goats. They're beautiful but now they've turned into a nuisance."

As of last year, hunters in Northern Kentucky could kill one buck and an unlimited number of doe. Critics worried that the deer population would drop tremendously but, instead, it increased. "It was a tough change to make. Some hunters were concerned that (the state would) experience an over-harvest of deer," said Clay Smitson, a wildlife biologist for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. But, "we'd like to give that approach a chance."

Deer-car collisions in Northern Kentucky's Boone, Campbell and Kenton counties totaled 29 in 2001 - a significant 76 percent drop from 1999. But state officials acknowledge that not all collisions are recorded because staffing cuts make that impossible.

Because of extensive crop damage, estimated at more than $45 million across Ohio, hunters in the southeastern and east central parts of the state can kill three deer this year instead of two. In the urban hunting zone that includes all of Hamilton County and chunks of Butler, Warren and Clermont counties, the bag limit is six.

Hamilton County Park District officials are considering bringing sharpshooters into Shawnee Lookout and Mitchell Memorial forests near Cleves, and Miami Whitewater Forest near Harrison, because there are hundreds of deer living on each square mile. A healthy number would be 20 deer per square mile, said John Klein, the district's land manager.

In those parks, he said, the over-grazed ground vegetation leaves little for other adored critters like chipmunks and squirrels. He believes that, even with sharpshooters, years are needed before the deer population drops to the proper density.

"It was a very tough decision, but it was a decision that we really had to make," Mr. Klein said. "We looked at all the options and frankly this is our best. There's more deer now in Hamilton County than there ever was."

Predators on decline

Coyotes, wolves and mountain lions are the natural predators of deer, but development has minimized their numbers. At the same time, deer are quite capable of living in suburbia.

Some state officials think that even the higher bag limits won't make a dent.

Only 20 percent of Ohio's hunters kill two deer a year, and a mere fraction kill more than that, said Mike Tonkovich of the Ohio Division of Wildlife.

Anderson Township resident Glenn Hawkins lives on Eight Mile Road near I-275, where most of the township's deer-car collisions happen. He knows where they sleep. He sees which trees they rub their antlers against. He has seen running deer - and plenty of deer carcasses - along the road.

"There's a lot more around than there used to be, that's for sure," Mr. Hawkins said. "They can be dangerous out on the road ... so I'm looking for them all the time. You see them, just walking around and grazing out there."

Stephanie Boyles, wildlife biologist for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, believes residents should put up fences and buy deer-deterrent chemicals to keep deer out of their back yards.

John Pennycuff of Forest Park has seen deer-car collisions in his neighborhood and tried different means of keeping them away from his large vegetable garden.

The deer have jumped and barreled through his fences. And he's found that covering his plants with mothballs, human hair and animal urine only works temporarily.

"They've got to do something. The problem is getting worse," said Mr. Pennycuff.


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