The Kansas Highway Patrol urges motorists to be cautious of deer this fall. Deer-breeding season peaks between now and December, and law enforcement officers routinely investigate a large number of vehicle-deer crashes this time of year, according to the KHP.
They offer these tips:
¢ Intentionally look for deer - especially at dawn and dusk, which are peak movement times for deer and when visibility is low.¢ Increase your following distance between vehicles.¢ Drive at a modest speed, particularly on roads near woods, parks, streams or creeks.¢ Watch for deer-crossing signs.¢ Deer usually travel in groups. When one deer crosses the road, there may be others about to cross. Be prepared to stop for others darting into the road.¢ Slow down when approaching deer standing near roads. They have a tendency to bolt, possibly onto the road. Use emergency flashers to warn oncoming drivers after you see deer near a road.¢ Always wear your seat belt and use child safety seats when appropriate.
The Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks and a Kansas University environmental studies field class teamed up last week to survey the number of white-tailed deer in the Lawrence area.
Varying deer populations across the state have an impact on the number of vehicle-deer collisions, especially this month because it's deer mating season.
KDWP had been conducting a spotlight survey at 18 wildlife management areas across the state since 2002, said Lloyd Fox, big game program coordinator for KDWP. Using a specially modified pickup truck, Fox and other members of KDWP drive about 15 or 20 miles. When they spot a deer, they record data to add to a database designed to identify trends in Kansas deer populations.
Last week, Fox joined about 24 students at new locations, the KU Field Station and Ecological Reserve.
About 24 students from Bob Hagen's environmental studies class at KU participated in a three-night spotlight survey at those locations. "The students loved it; they had a lot of fun out there," Fox said.
Preliminary estimates put the deer population in that area at about 33 deer per square mile, said Hagen, lecturer for the environmental studies program and research associate for the Kansas Biological Survey.
The deer population also affects tree and plant species, as well as wildlife management efforts. Hagen said about 100 years ago, unregulated hunting wiped out deer in Kansas. Small populations gradually increased as wildlife conservation came into practice during the 20th century. In northeastern Kansas, however, deer were still rare 50 years ago, he said.
Hagen said Kansas became the last state, in 1965, in the Midwest to open a legal deer hunting season.
Hunting is what keeps white-tailed deer numbers down in the Clinton Wildlife Area, Fox said. There are about 20 deer per square mile there compared with about 200 in Shawnee Mission Park.
Fox said in about three or four years, the department will make a final report on white-tailed deer numbers. Meanwhile, Hagen's classes will examine the local deer numbers. Next week, the class will start work to learn how many deer are north of the Kansas River Valley and then set up experiments to learn what deer are actually doing to the environment and what they are eating, for example.
"The field station, for example, north of town has been in place since 1948, and there's no information on deer numbers," Hagen said. "Part of it is getting that basic information and trying to understand what the numbers are here."