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Report says deer-car collisions rose in '06

By Mark Ginocchio

Staff Writer

February 2, 2007

A new report shows a dramatic increase in the number of collisions between deer and cars last year in parts of lower Fairfield County.

State officials said the one-year spike does not indicate a trend, but a Fairfield County coalition is concerned about the accidents, which more than doubled in Greenwich, New Canaan and Darien.

The Fairfield County Municipal Deer Management Alliance, made up of officials from 15 towns, reported 86 deer vs. car collisions in Greenwich last year, compared with 38 in 2005. In New Canaan, 101 accidents were reported last year, compared with 44 a year earlier. In Darien, 38 accidents were reported last year, compared with 16 in 2005.

The numbers were collected from state Department of Transportation reports, state police and municipal police departments, which often respond to deer vs. car collisions, said Kent Haydock, public education chairman for the alliance and chairman of Darien's Deer Management Committee.

An increase in accidents could signal an increase in the deer population, Haydock said. The only way to manage the population is to kill the deer, he said.

"We need to cull the deer but not eliminate them," Haydock said. "An increase in the deer population means more accidents on the roads and more Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases."

Getting accurate statistics has been a challenge, Haydock said. For years, the state has underreported the number of deer vs. car collisions because it tracks only the number of "road kills."

For example, from 2001 to 2005, DOT reported only 33 deer vs. car collisions in Greenwich, 45 in Darien and 58 in New Canaan.

Howard Kilpatrick, wildlife biologist for the state Department of Environmental Protection, said about 3,000 collisions were reported last year, but estimates 15,000 went unreported.

The alliance started collecting reports from municipal police departments the past two years and discovered there were many more incidents that were not reported by the state.

The system works for tracking the number of accidents in small towns, but larger cities such as Stamford, Norwalk and Bridgeport are underreporting, Haydock said.

That's because such collisions are not as significant in the cities, said William Callion, Stamford public safety director and the city's representative with the alliance.

"No one is immune to these problems, but we just don't have issues on the same scale as some of the towns," he said.

Though state officials do not dispute the alliance's statistics, they think there is not enough data to say the number of deer vs. car collisions is increasing.

"You can never make that judgment just on one year," Kilpatrick said. "There are a lot of variables with deer densities" including weather and the availability of food.

If the number increased over three to five years, that could indicate a trend, Kilpatrick said.

Some animal rights groups think the higher rate of accidents has been caused by increased hunting, which disturbs the deer population.

"They call it an overpopulation of deer É but the report is propaganda," said Priscilla Feral, president of Friends of Animals in Darien. "Their logic is counterintuitive. More hunting causes deer to panic" and move around more, she said.

The DEP estimates that more deer vs. car collisions occur in Fairfield County than in any other part of the state. Almost 20 percent of all collisions occur in Fairfield County, and no other part of Connecticut has more than 10 percent, Kilpatrick said.

About half of all the collisions happen from October to December, which is mating season.

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