Deer numbers down in ND

April 05, 2010 at 07:25 AM

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - Auto body worker Jay Lundeen doesn’t need a biologist to tell him deer numbers are down in North Dakota. Instead, he can just look at the number of vehicles awaiting repair from crashing into the animals.

“Deer collisions are down, no doubt about it,” said Lundeen, vice president of Jerome’s Collision Center in Minot.

Consecutive harsh winters and increased hunting licenses have dropped North Dakota’s deer population to its lowest level in a decade, the state Game and Fish Department says.

The number of vehicle-deer collisions mirrors the animals’ decline, state Transportation Department records show.

Aerial surveys done in January and February show up to a 40 percent drop in deer numbers over much of the state, said Randy Kreil, the department’s wildlife division chief.

“We have been very aggressive with the number of deer licenses and we’ve had two difficult winters back-to-back, which has hurt the reprodu ction of deer,” Kreil said. “There is an indication that the state’s deer population is the lowest in 10 years.”

The Game and Fish Department has attempted this decade to reduce deer numbers in the state, after several mild winters that boosted the population. The agency lowered the number of deer hunting licenses last year by about 5,000 from a record 149,400 in 2008.

Kreil the agency is still evaluating hunter surveys sent out following the season but initial reports show that the success rate is lower than in recent years.

“The early returns show that it was down considerably,” he said.

Kreil said the number of deer licenses for the upcoming season will be cut to reflect fewer deer.

“We don’t have the details yet but I fully expect them to be down significantly,” Kreil said of licenses.

While fewer deer is bad news for hunters, it may be good news for drivers because the animals have accounted for nearly a quarter of all vehicle acciden ts in North Dakota in recent years.

From 1999 to 2008, North Dakota had 36,533 vehicle-deer collisions, which resulted in 342 injuries and 10 deaths, according to the state Transportation Department.

Agency spokeswoman Jamie Olson said there were 3,656 vehicle accidents involving deer in 2008, the lowest tally since 2001. The number of deer collisions in the state peaked at 4,283 in 2004, records show.

Statistics for 2009 are not finished, Olson said.

The busiest time for Lundeen’s repair business in Minot is during the fall hunting season, when deer are on the move and often cross in front of unsuspecting drivers.

Lundeen said the shop had averaged six to eight deer-related repairs weekly but the amount dropped by about 20 percent last year.

Kreil said deer populations don’t always equate to the number of deer-vehicle collisions. He said increased highway speeds, better roads and more drivers on the road also plays a part.

“I’m not saying the number of deer in the state is not a factor, but it’s not the only factor,” he said.