Deer-related traffic crashes escalate

A young white-tailed deer and its mother wander through the Prairie Trail in Algonquin.
A young white-tailed deer and its mother wander through the Prairie Trail in Algonquin.

It’s that time of year again – deer season.

The changing seasonal landscape combined with the start of hunting season for game enthusiasts and mating season for deer mean more of the animals near roadways.

“It’s unavoidable that deer are going to be on the roadways,” said Brad Woodson, natural resource supervisor for the McHenry County Conservation District. “Pay attention because it’s not just the woods or other natural habitats where they are found. You have to be careful everywhere.”

Deer-related traffic accidents statewide increased by about 5 percent in the past two years. There were 17,918 in 2011 compared with 17,123 in 2010, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation.

McHenry, Lake and Kane counties have accounted for more than 5 percent of the total traffic and property damage accidents each of the past two years, data show. That includes an 11 percent increase in traffic and property damage accidents in the counties, up to 1,965 in 2011 from 1,771 in 2010.

McHenry County was the only one of the three counties that showed a decrease in accidents involving deer – a 4 percent decrease in traffic accidents and 5 percent decrease in ones that involved property damage over the past two years.

Kane and Lake counties saw an increase of between 14 percent and 20 percent in both categories, according to IDOT.

Deer-related accidents in the three counties were responsible for 86 injuries and one death in 2010 and 2011.

Deer-vehicle accidents typically increase in mid-October through December.

Early morning and evening are considered to have with highest deer activity near roadways, experts said. Areas with creeks and rivers, woodlands, and wooded fence rows intersect roads tend to have the most accidents.

“Vigilance is key,” said Tom Micetich, deer project manager for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. “Remember places along your normal travel routes where you have observed deer and be careful driving through those locations.”

Each year, with special permits, the McHenry County Conservation District allows deer hunting at several of its sites. Locations vary from year to year at the 28 conservation district sites, depending on deer populations. This year, officials said, deer numbers are up in the areas of Stickney Indian Ridge, north and south regions of McHenry, and the Queen Anne Prairie region near Woodstock.

“We allow hunting where we have the highest number of deer and need to manage those numbers,” Woodson said. “A lot of hunters are worried about deer numbers, but we had real strong numbers when we did our count in January.”

Factors that could affect deer population this season include a higher presence of those found with chronic wasting disease and epizootic hemorrhagic disease.

There were 40 cases of deer with chronic wasting disease in McHenry, Lake and Kane counties through July, state wildlife officials said. The neurological disease attacks the brains of infected deer, moose and elk, causing them to become emaciated, display abnormal behavior, lose coordination and eventually die.

A breakout of epizootic hemorrhagic disease continues to affect the state, especially the southern portion, data show. It includes more than 720 deer deaths in 51 counties through August. “We haven’t been able to isolate it,” Micetich said. “We are continuing to collect samples and the numbers are growing.”

Kane County accounts for 18 of the more than 20 reports of the disease in it, McHenry and Lake counties.

Tiny biting gnats spread the viral disease, which causes high fever and severe internal bleeding in deer. Infected animals usually seek water and are found close to ponds, lakes and creeks.

Neither chronic wasting disease nor epizootic hemorrhagic disease is considered hazardous to humans, livestock or pets.

For information, www.illinois.dnr.gov or www.mccdistrict.org.

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