Deer, Cars, Wildlife Corridors… and Coyotes

by James A. Bacon

Egads! Vehicle collisions with deer accounted for 61,000 traffic accidents, in Virginia in the year ending June 30, 2016, according to the Virginia Transportation Research Council. The hoofed critters contributed to one in six of all accident claims. And, judging by the number of deer carcass removals, the number of accidents may be under-reported. There are more deer-related accidents than alcohol-related crashes. As a menace to Virginia motorists — roughly 10,000 injuries and 200 fatalities a year — deer are second only to distracted drivers.

I first read the astonishing deer-collision numbers in a Washington Post op-ed by Richmond journalist (and friend) Steve Nash. Nash is a careful reporter, but so amazed was I by the magnitude of the problem, I had to double-check the data. It’s accurate.

Lawmakers have tackled drunk drivers, and they’re working on distracted drivers. But I can’t think of any laws the General Assembly can enact that deer are likely to obey. There are almost as many deer living in rural Virginia (an estimated one million), and they are even less inclined than the human inhabitants of Second Amendment Sanctuary country to hew to legal diktats handed down from the legislature.

Given deer’s proclivity for civil disobedience, what are state authorities supposed to to? One possibility is to let hunters harvest more deer. Once upon a time, Virginia hunters bagged 200,000 to 250,000 of the animals yearly. The cull was down to 190,000 by 2018-19, and the long-term trends don’t look favorable. The number of licensed hunters has declined by roughly a third — by or 100,000 — since the early 1990s. (You’d never know it from the ruckus raised by gun-rights activists in Richmond this year, but the numbers are what they are.)

Nash has other ideas for addressing the problem. He points to an experiment along Interstate 64 in Charlottesville in which the installation of fencing to create safe corridors reduced deer-vehicle collisions by about 95% in two years. He also proposes going beyond highway fencing to creating wildlife corridors – a measure that would also protect endangered species like bears, fox squirrels and wood turtles. The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries has listed more than 500 vertebrate species at risk. As climate change warms Virginia temperatures, Nash writes, species will have to migrate north to survive, which won’t be easy when they encounter interstate highways, subdivisions, and other man-made obstacles.

Del. David L. Bulova, D-Fairfax, and Sen. David W. Marsden, D-Fairfax, have submitted bills that would require the Virginia Department of Transportation to establish a Wildlife Corridor Action Plan. The plan would list priority projects to protect wildlife corridors and improve road safety while also meeting the Commonwealth’s conservation goals, summarizes the Wildlands Network, which thinks the corridors are a dandy idea.

“We must act now to create corridors for wildlife movement and habitat before development makes it impossible to allow wildlife to allow for freedom of movement,” the Network quotes Marsden as saying. “This will increase safety of road crossings and lessen incidents of vehicle collisions with wildlife.”

Bacon’s bottom line: I’m all in favor of creating wildlife corridors. In fact, I’d go one step further and argue that we should create corridors of old-growth forest. That would require planning with a time horizon of a couple hundred years at least, and coordinating VDOT road projects with state acquisition of ecologically valuable land, the granting of private conservation easements, and the reform of local zoning codes and comprehensive plans to nudge rural populations through voluntary, market-based actions into more compact development patterns. If people lived in hamlets and villages, they would have a lot less impact on the environment and wildlife than they do when scattered about the countryside.

But I’m not clear how wildlife corridors will corral the deer population. Deer are anarchists. They don’t read maps. They don’t respect property lines. And if their numbers continue increasing, they will continue encroaching upon human habitat no matter how free they are to migrate from south to north. Barring a resurgence of the number of licensed hunters, or allowing hunters to re-sell venison for public consumption, the only long-term solution to the deer problem may be to bring back the coyotes.

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13 responses to “Deer, Cars, Wildlife Corridors… and Coyotes

  1. I really cannot grow almost anything in my yard with the deer and moles and gophers eating everything from top down and bottom up. The other day on the jogging path there was a couple fire truck sirens and there was strange howling from the woods. I figure this might be a new way to hunt down the coyotes. Meanwhile on the jogging path many orange signs warning the Ffx County bow-and -arrow deer thinning in progress during winter…stay on the marked trails!

    When I was a Boy Scout, deer were considered endangered species and we would go on ranger-organized “browse cutting” camps outs in the winter woods of Pennsylvania and cut down trees to save the deer. See how good we did?

  2. Can’t believe that Bacon is actually reading that left wing rag – the Post!

    I sorta wonder of all the weapons being bought – how many are actually truly for hunting?

    I don’t know about wildlife corridors either but one thing that people can do is pay attention more than they are and when they see a deer – there are usually more so slow down!

    At one time, Virginia had wolves, elk and buffalo!

    But we’ve hunted them to extinction… can’t same to do that with Deer and Coyotes!

    The way to deal with deer is to hunt them with birth control. Yes.

    not as sexy as “sport” hunting but much more effective.

  3. Growing up, I always thought those numerous yellow deer crossing signs was a hoax! It was rare to see wildlife like you do now. I used to check game at Alvey’s Store in Downtown Catharpin, Virginia too. It was a big deal to the local hunters to check in a deer. Every once in a great while I could check in a black bear or a wild turkey. The wildlife of Virginia have made a tremendous comeback in the last 35 years. Mother nature cannot be contained. My suggestion is good car insurance. At some point every motorist is going to hit a deer or have a very close call. For crying in a bucket do not swerve to avoid the deer. You just multiply your chances of hitting something like a tree or utility pole. Take the hit! Your car is going to win that game of chicken. The idea of fences and corridors? I am very skeptical. The first tree to fall in a storm will knock a hole in the fencing. Bambi, Yogi, and Boo Boo are going to find it long before VDOT ever will. I would like to see legislation that limits how many times squirrels get to play “Lets Run in Front of Cars” game. I wonder how those critters score that game?

  4. These proposals fit right in with what we poor benighted rural dwellers see in the measures of the former Agenda 21, currently Agenda 2030, to herd us into hamlets and villages and prevent future development. (Items 9 & 33: UN Agenda 2030

    Why should we do that when we choose to live with 3% or less impervious cover on our land, live within the capacity of our primary drinking water aquifer, and have septic systems that return about 98% of that water to be recycled into the ground?

    The Middle Peninsula Planning District’s been at work on various protective corridors for a long time. Here’s their 2010 Conservation Corridor Plan: Look at page 12 for their Virginia Natural Land Network between unfragmented natural habitats.

    This report is the one with the incomplete information about the financial impacts to localities of conservation easements. Since our Land Book does not identify all conservation easements or other reasons for tax exempt status, merely transfers them into non-taxable property without tracking those transfers over time, there currently is no way to calculate the impact on local tax revenue. Mathews County pays heavily for this because it puts our composite index share of local schools expense at 50.6%.

    The deer in my two acres of woodlands, and those in my neighbors’, risk death every year to forage in the soybean field across Route 14, and a half dozen pay the price. A. There’s no way to fence them into underpasses to cross the road without preventing me and my neighbors from ingress and egress to our homes. B. Underpasses would be underwater here because the water table is at 3-4 feet down. Underpasses do make sense for the multi-lane mega-roads in other areas, and those should have been built in a long time ago.

    We’ve got plenty of coyotes, so that’s not an answer either. And even higher hunting limits on deer probably won’t solve this here, because deer can’t resist soybeans or other crops. But corraling humans into denser living isn’t going to solve the problem either, just create new ones.

    • Carol, there’s two approaches to achieving more compact settlement patterns in rural areas. One is the liberal/progressive way — more rules, regulations, mandates. The other is the “smart growth for conservatives” approach, which I espouse, which is free market-oriented. In the free market approach, eliminate zoning mandates and subsidies, then let the market work. If people want to live in the countryside, then they should be allowed to — a long as they (and people in suburbs and cities, too) pay the location-related costs of where they live. I wrote about the subject extensively a decade ago.

  5. The hunting regulations must be fixed to allow for more harvesting. Look at the difference between East of the Blue Ridge and West of it. I find it hard to believe that the deer populations of Floyd and Giles are soooooo different – but given the difference in regulations, you’d think the two counties were worlds apart.

    Another measure would be to make it worthwhile to allow hunting on private property. As city folk have moved out into the ‘country’ — they have stopped allowing hunting of ‘Bambi’. This is what is causing the over population. Maybe allowing for tax deductions for properties which allows hunting.. maybe per deer harvested?

    There are many solutions which would help with the population control.

    Years ago NoVa allowed hunting in the regional parks to control the population for a few years. Many hunters took advantage of the opportunity and it made money for the county… until the tree huggers complained. Now NoVa spends tax payer’s money to cull the herds.

  6. Yeah bacon!
    I agree with Larry. What’s up with you? Actually, living in the far exurbs of southwestern Chesterfield, deer are a road issue, especially at night. I live near a massive hunt club reserve so they stray and my dog does nothing.

  7. I agree with increased killing – also referred to as “harvesting” but “harvesting” means the deer are butchered and processed and truth be
    known only certified country folk know how and actually do it.

    I’d sign up for certified hunters – not more yahoos who pretend to be hunters but are dangerous to others.

    That would be especially true in areas that are no longer truly rural and subdivisions and similar really do not want any old types with guns but rather those who are more professional and accountable.

    I also would be fine with folks with birth control darts.

    By far, the most successful hunters, bar none, use dogs with GPS collars. They are efficient and deadly. I’m okay with that also as
    long as they have a special license that allows them to kill more than the normal limit.

    We only really care about Deer or other larger animals. The toll on the smaller critters is equally awful and many die horrible deaths that take hours and days laying in ditches or nearby fields and woods.

    Anytime I hear someone blathering about the “poor” birds with respect to solar and wind.. I also think about all these small critters who kill by the thousands … with our cars.

    • “…but “harvesting” means the deer are butchered and processed and truth be
      known only certified country folk know how and actually do it.”

      They, and any butcher in any grocery store that has a meat department.

  8. I read that Fairfax County allows (highly regulated) bow hunting in parks, and that the archery program is now expanding to other areas. Does anyone have knowledge of this program?

    • I think that’s what has to be done but it’s still not well like by folks living in those areas – still potentially dangerous and many just don’t like the idea of purposely killing them – they would prefer that they be trapped and moved – which you could do if you used tranquilizer darts.

      • Do you have any idea how expensive it would be to significantly reduce the deer population in a locality using tranquilizer darts? First, you will need to hire someone to utilize these darts. Next, you will need to purchase cages, trucks and trailers to transport the sedated deer – not just two or three, but a small fleet (at minimum). Additionally, you will need to hire people to handle the animals, put them in cages, load them on the trucks/trailers, transport them to their new home, off-load them and then stick around long enough to assure they regain consciousness without major health complications.

        And, of course, where would these deer be taken? Deer overpopulation is a statewide problem. How many localities, even rural ones, do you think would be willing to INCREASE their deer population?

        So, please tell me, why in the world should the anti-hunting faction in Fairfax (or any other city in Virginia) be allowed to make their deer problem someone else’s deer problem?

  9. “The number of licensed hunters has declined by roughly a third — by or 100,000 — since the early 1990s. (You’d never know it from the ruckus raised by gun-rights activists in Richmond this year, but the numbers are what they are.)”

    Perhaps this is because gun rights have far less to do with hunting than with each individual’s right to self-defense and self-determination.

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