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Calif. deer study a real head-scratcher

First, let me state for the record that I have nothing against the state of California or the people who live in it.

Next, let me pose a question:

Does it make sense to spend $300,000 to figure out a way to save the lives of about a dozen deer a year?

Californians are doing just that.

Their state's government is in debt up to its eyeballs, and yet they think it's a good idea to shell out nearly one-third of a million bucks to discover why some deer safely navigate a busy stretch of Interstate 280 south of San Francisco and why a handful of their brethren end up as road kill.

Sigh.

According to a recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle, the California Department of Transportation has teamed up with the state Department of Fish and Game and the University of California-Davis to research that very question.

One of the study's goals - I am not making this up - is to try to learn why older, experienced deer consistently avoid being hit by cars and why young, inexperienced ones tend to get hit.

Heavy sigh.

The article quoted a fellow named Craig Stowers, identified as the Department of Fish and Game's state deer coordinator.

"The older ones [have] been living by the freeway for a long, long time," Stowers said. "They're smart."

Bingo! Give Mr. Stowers the kewpie doll! He has it figured out. Some deer learn more quickly than others.

The quick ones survive. The dummies become semi-truck hood ornaments.

The truly mind-boggling thing about this research is that its goal is to save about one deer a month from getting killed.

One. Deer. A month.

The only encouraging thing about the research is that its primary objective is to reduce the number of human injuries and the amount of auto damage suffered during deer-vehicle collisions.

Here in West Virginia, we have a deer-collision study of our own. It, too, is aimed at reducing injuries and property damage.

But there's a significant difference between our study and California's - volume. Here in ol' Wild and Wonderful, drivers have a 1 in 53 chance of hitting a deer.

That's the highest deer-vehicle collision rate in the country.

In California, the odds are 1 in 1,113. The only states with lower odds are Nevada (1 in 1,718), Arizona (1 in 2,063) and Hawaii (1 in 6,267).

In West Virginia, close to 20,000 deer get road-killed each year. There are reasons for that - lots of roads, vegetation that usually comes right to the edge of the road, and a relatively high deer population.

So our Division of Highways, our Division of Natural Resources, and State Farm Insurance are collaborating on a $125,000 study to identify where the worst areas are and how best to keep deer away from them.

But the research, if successful, could lead to significantly lower deer-vehicle collision rates - and that, in turn, would prevent one heck of a lot more than a dozen crashes per year.


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