November 08, 2006

For Deer, It's A Wild (And Dangerous) Life

The most surprising thing researchers noted, when studying the deer population in East Hampton Town, may not come as much of a surprise to many motorists. Late at night, drivers speed on quiet country roads. And in the course of that pell mell mobility, they often hit and kill deer.

Last week, representatives from the East Hampton Group for Wildlife presented the completed study, which was undertaken by Frank D. Verret, a distance-sampling expert from Wildlife Biometrics, to the town board. Over the course of about six weeks last spring, the biologist and his team sampled deer during their nighttime and predawn travels.

The group covered close to 600 miles of roads, and numbered the deer at just under 3300. They identified nine distinct habitat complexes within the town, and gauged the deer density per square mile in each. Overall there are 51 deer per square mile, a sum that exceeds the desirable number computed by wildlife managers for the eastern portion of the country.

Downtown Montauk fell in at the low end of the count, with the fewest deer per square mile (10). The section of town east of Montauk, covering the south shore out to the point, hosts the most deer per mile, 85.

East Hampton Village was among the sections where the density, about 56 deer per square mile, exceeds the 20 to 40 animals per square mile considered optimum by wildlife managers. The study notes that an overabundance of the animals can be detrimental to songbird populations. Their browsing can affect vegetation the birds need for cover and nesting.

But it's the deer vehicle accidents that appeared to most concern Bill Crain, who testified before the town board last Friday. According to the study, 8570 deer were reported hit by cars in New York State last year. But, given that experts believe only one out of six DVAs is reported, that figure may represent just the tip of the iceberg.

Over the course of 44 samplings over 27 days, Verret and volunteers found 13 dead deer. Most of them were found close to the road and many were less than a year and a half old. Motorists are "killing the babies," Crain emphasized on Friday.

The study notes it was common for cars to be traveling 20 to 30 miles over the speed limit, "with deer standing in plain sight next to the road, and the cars never even slowed down."

"This is a dangerous cocktail," the report states. In some instances, the use of deer fencing by property owners has forced deer closer, if not into roadways.

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