- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 7, 2004

Local road and wildlife officials are warning motorists to be extra careful in the next two weeks as deer mating season reaches its peak in the Washington area.

Fall is the breeding season for deer, and they may dart onto highways and roadways in search of mates. One-half to two-thirds of all vehicle collisions with deer occur in October, November and December, wildlife officials said.

“There is no reason to think [this season] is going to be any worse or better than anything we’ve experienced here in the last few years,” said Rick Busch, assistant director of the Wildlife Division for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

“The main thing … to know is that we are approaching the peak of the breeding season, and at that time [deer] are very active, especially just before sunrise and sunset,” he said.

Because deer have adapted well to the suburbs, one of their biggest threats is vehicles, authorities said.

“The good news for deer is that they have proven to be enormously adaptable to make a suburban environment their home. Instead of being a creature of the woodlands or the farm areas, they have moved full force into the suburbs,” said Lon Anderson, a spokesman for the AAA Mid-Atlantic motor club.

“The reality is they have adapted well and have multiplied enormously. Their biggest threat in the suburbs is the automobile,” he said.

Before the start of the hunting season this year, there were about 1 million deer in Virginia and about 260,000 in Maryland, authorities estimate.

Because of the lack of natural predators and the ever-increasing deer population, counties in Virginia and Maryland have organized deer hunts as a means of limiting the population and reducing the possibility of accidents.

Seneca Creek State Park in Montgomery County, which has held organized deer hunts since 1997, has reduced the deer and driver collision rate by 74 percent, said Douglas Hotton, deer project leader for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

Fairfax County also conducts deer hunts. During the hunting season last year, 263 deer were killed.

Despite efforts by authorities to limit deer numbers, there is still a huge risk to motorists, Mr. Hotton said.

The best thing for drivers to be is cautious, he said.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says there are more than 1.5 million crashes nationwide annually that involve deer and cause an estimated $1.1 billion in vehicle damage.

The average cost per insurance claim is $2,000, the institute said.

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