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Bait and shoot works, data shows Four area communities record decline in number of deer and in accidents involving them and cars

Four local communities say the aggressive and sometimes controversial bait-and-shoot programs to control the deer population work.

And all four -- Amherst, Clarence, Cheektowaga and North Tonawanda -- plan to do it again this winter.

They say the number of car-deer collisions is going down, making roads safer.

Results have varied, but no community can match the dramatic impact of North Tonawanda.

Golfers at Deerwood Golf Course may have been the first to notice fewer deer last summer. City police shot 155 deer from November 2004 through this March. The effects on the accident rate are startling.

Last year, the city recorded 77 car-deer collisions.

As of Thursday, the total for this year was 15, a decline of more than 80 percent.

"There was a drastic reduction," North Tonawanda Police Chief Randy D. Szukala said. "It was a huge success."

"We've noted a considerable reduction in the deer," said Phil Mills, a North Tonawanda resident who opposes the bait-and-shoot program. "Couldn't we address it in a different manner?"

Still, he gave police high marks for carrying out the program in an unobtrusive way.

In Amherst, the number of car-deer crashes went down last year also and is expected to decrease again this year.

Jason Engel, of the town's Planning Department, attributes the decrease to the town's aggressive program, which includes driver education and speed enforcement as well as bait and shoot.

"Since we started the deer vehicle collision management program, we've seen a drop in accidents," he said.

>An increase nationally

Nationally, car-deer collisions seem to be increasing. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimates there are more than 1.5 million of them each year.

"All the indications are the trend is continuing. There are more accidents every year," said Russ Rader, a spokesman for the institute.

There's a human toll also. Two people died this year on Erie County roads after their car hit a deer or swerved to avoid the animal. Last week, a man was killed in Weedsport, in Central New York, when a deer that had been hit by a car flew through his windshield.

The Insurance Institute said most vehicle-animal collisions involve a single passenger vehicle. Most of the fatalities occur when the vehicle runs off the road or a motorcyclist falls off a cycle. The best way to avoid injury is for motorists to use safety belts and for motorcyclists to use helmets, according to the institute.

The damage to a vehicle can be costly. Repairing vehicles that have collided with a deer costs more than $1 billion nationally every year, the institute says.

Mark Mingle, of Elma Collision, sees some of that work. He stocks up on parts and paint every fall and makes sure he has enough workers to cover the increase in repairs from deer season.

"They make up a large part of our workload, particularly this time of year," he said.

He said most damage is cosmetic, not structural. Estimates can run as high as $7,000 for a sport utility vehicle damaged by a run-in with a deer. Most bills are around $2,500, he said.

Cheektowaga saw the number of car-deer collisions drop this August, September, October and November, although the total through November is more than the same period last year. In 2004, there were 201 accidents from January through November, with 227 for the entire year. This year, there were 204 accidents through November.

"We're showing a trend downward in the last few months," said police Lt. Gary M. Schmidt. "I'd like to attribute that to our extra enforcement."

The town killed 78 deer in its bait-and-shoot program early this year.

>Speeding a factor

Police have caught more people speeding on roads where most car-deer accidents occur. Officers have issued 98 speeding tickets on Como Park Boulevard, Borden and Losson roads since Oct. 1. The extra patrols are paid out of a federal grant. Schmidt has secured a state grant for similar patrols next year.

Keeping speeds down is important to prevent accidents, Schmidt said, because it allows the driver more time to react to an animal darting across the road.

"It's a lot easier to react at 35 than it is at 50," he said.

Amherst has killed 636 deer in the past two years.

"It's not our goal to eliminate deer, and we know we're not going to eliminate accidents," Engel said.

Municipal police carry out the bait-and-shoot programs in North Tonawanda, Amherst and Cheektowaga. In Clarence, the town secures nuisance permits, and private hunters are allowed to go on private land and some town land, with permission, to shoot deer. Accident figures were not available for the past two years.

Hunters shot 136 deer in the program that ended in March, Clarence Supervisor Kathleen Hallock said. In all, 697 deer have been taken in the past four years.

"I don't see an end to it right now. We will do it as long as it is needed," she said.

She said aerial counts show the numbers are decreasing.

The results have drawn the attention of others. Some residents in the Town of Tonawanda asked the Town Board this year to enact a bait-and-shoot problem to cut down on the large numbers of deer roaming in their yards, eating their bushes. They said the deer were becoming a hazard on roads, too, but Police Chief Samuel M. Palmiere said there had not been an increase in accidents due to deer.

e-mail: bobrien@buffnews.com

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