Shining a headlight on deer crossings

(Edmonton) University of Alberta researchers have produced a map of Edmonton predicting the most likely locations where vehicles will collide with deer. The hot spots for deer vs. vehicle collisions virtually encircle Edmonton’s entire city limit.

Collisions between vehicles and deer can be fatal for drivers and their passengers, with costs associated with wildlife collisions estimated to be upwards of $300 million a year in Canada.

Mark Boyce, ecology professor and co-author of the paper, says the most dangerous roadways share three features; natural vegetation, bushes and trees that run right up to the roadside, roads that pass through a landscape of farm fields and forests, and high speed limits.

The researchers analyzed data from 260 deer/vehicle collisions in the Edmonton area between 2003 and 2007.

“When heavy vegetation runs right up to the roadway drivers don’t have a chance to avoid a deer popping out of nowhere,” said Boyce. “The solution is to groom natural vegetation along busy rural roads creating a buffer zone where drivers can see grazing and approaching animals.”

Boyce says the mix of agriculture land alongside sheltered, forested areas is the perfect habitat for deer, which venture out of the forest in the morning and evening for easily accessible food.

He adds agricultural and wildlife-management policies that reduce the number of predators and strict policing of poaching laws has been a boon to the deer population across North America. “There are more deer now in North America than 1492, when Columbus arrived,” said Boyce.

Now that the highest deer/vehicle collision locations around Edmonton are known, Boyce says the solutions are to cut back natural vegetation along the roads, reduce speed through the hot zones and improve the signage alerting drivers to deer crossings.

“The conflict between deer and traffic is a natural result of continued human expansion, pushing out of the cities through prime, real estate for deer,” said Boyce.

The research, led by U of A PhD candidate Rob Found was published in the Journal of Environmental Management.