Shotgun hunting season opened Monday, but it's been open season on deer on area roads for weeks.
The carcasses lying at roadsides are a small indication of the hazard and cost to drivers of colliding with a 150-pound deer.
North Tonawanda, Amherst and Clarence all have deer management programs that include baiting and shooting.
Now Cheektowaga is starting to look at ways of controlling the deer population to reduce car-deer accidents.
With fatalities from animal collisions hitting a record high nationwide, it's not just the nuisance of deer munching thousands of dollars of suburban shrubbery that has some people concerned. Many communities are looking at ways to make the roads safer.
While animal lovers prefer to talk about nonlethal means like road reflectors and contraception, baiting and shooting deer is the state-approved method that municipalities have chosen to slash the number of deer.
And even bait and shoot doesn't work overnight.
In Amherst, for example, 400 deer were harvested through nuisance permits and the town's bait and shoot program earlier this year, and 12,000 pounds of venison was donated to the Food Bank of Western New York.
"We're having just as many accidents this year as we did last year," said Jason Engel of the Amherst Planning Department. "I consider it to be a good thing that we're stable."
The number of car-deer accidents in Amherst had jumped from 366 in 2002 to 546 in 2003. There have been about 340 accidents through October, and the height of the accident season is this month and next.
There were more deadly accidents with animals nationwide last year than ever before. A report by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says 210 motorists were killed last year in collisions with animals, most of them deer. Seven of the fatalities were in New York State, according to the institute.
Drive with care
State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Erin M. Crotty has cautioned motorists to be on the lookout for deer this month because this is the peak of the annual breeding cycle when deer are more active and less cautious in their movements.
Two-thirds of the accidents occur from October through December, and most happen between 6:30 and 7:30 a.m., and 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., according to the DEC. Whatever the time of day, residents in high-deer population areas know they need to travel slowly, or they will become a statistic.
"When I come home from a Town Board meeting at 9 at night, I go 10 mph on Cayuga Creek Road because the deer are hopping from the creek to houses across the street," Cheektowaga Councilman James J. Jankowiak said. "Somebody's going to get seriously hurt."
The number of deer-vehicle collisions in Cheektowaga has jumped 33 percent so far this year. There were 136 deer struck from Jan. 1, 2003, to Nov. 18, 2003, and 181 were hit during the same period this year, according to Cheektowaga Police. One person was injured this year in a car-deer collision.
The Town Board plans to meet soon with a DEC representative about deer management, and is expecting to receive information on lethal and nonlethal methods.
"The board then will have to look at developing a policy," Jankowiak said.
He said the board will review information and is ready to make some tough decisions.
"Yeah, there's going to be controversy. Deer are beautiful animals," he said. "I also have a responsibility to the town to have a safe community."
If Cheektowaga takes the same route as North Tonawanda, Clarence and Amherst, it can expect to hear from animal rights activists.
In addition to opposing deer killing, the Humane Society of the United States does not think bait and shoot programs are effective.
"It's only a Band-Aid effect," said Pat McElroy, a research associate with the group.
But contraceptive programs being tested require additional doses to maintain effectiveness.
"There are no contraceptive agents that are commercially available," said Paul D. Curtis, an associate professor at Cornell University and coordinator of the Wildlife Damage Mangement Program for Cornell Cooperative Extension.
He's testing a contraceptive, but it involves tranquilizing deer and injecting and tagging them. The deer are tagged to help researchers find them for follow-up doses and to see if the contraceptive is effective, and to warn hunters the federal Food and Drug Administration has not approved the venison for human consumption. The promising news is contraceptives being tested are proving to be effective for three or four years, Curtis said. Once a contraceptive is approved by the FDA, and the cost of operating a contraceptive program comes down, it could be a viable option for municipalities.
Experts say the programs work better in enclosed environments such as those on an island or in a fenced-in area.
Jeffrey L. Termini, president of the Western New York Chapter of the League of Humane Voters, said contraception is the future of deer management.
He also recommends roadside reflectors and more public education to reduce car-deer accidents.
"People could help with the problem if they would not feed the deer," he said. "You're only taking away the natural inclination to be afraid of people."
While North Tonawanda's bait and shoot runs through March, Amherst will decide early next year whether to have another bait and shoot.
The Town of Clarence is in the fourth year of its deer management program. A total of 561 deer have been harvested from 27 nuisance permit areas over the winter months since 2001. More than 15,000 pounds of venison has been donated to the Food Bank since then.
"Our point is to control the herd. We don't want to eliminate them," said Clarence Supervisor Kathleen Hallock. "The town's responsibility is to keep the roads safe for the residents."
Photo on the Picture Page, C10
Most dangerous times for car-deer collisions
Months: October through December
Time of day: 6:30 to 7:30 am; 4:30 to 6:30 pm
Municipalities using bait and shoot programs:
Cheektowaga is considering using bait and shoot program