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Another Voice: New tech is needed to prevent deer-auto collisions

By Jennifer Gold

The LaClair-Kindel Wildlife Sanctuary is 6.52 acres situated between Main Street and Park Club Lane in Amherst. As part of an electric transmission corridor owned by the Niagara Mohawk Power Corp., the company is entitled to do with it as they wish. And they have.

For years there was an easement to the town allowing public access to this land for “walking and nature observation.”

According to the June 2004 Town of Amherst Recreation & Parks Master Plan Background Report, “the sanctuary is undeveloped and contains a variety of natural plant and animal habitats.”

But sadly no more. Slowly, one could even say surreptitiously, large corporate buildings have been raising their solid, ugly presence on the land. Utility markers have been popping up and it won’t be long until everything is under tarmac and chemically treated landscaping.

One sign near Main street leans sideways claiming that this is indeed the LaClair-Kindel Wildlife Sanctuary. A small, yellow bird is painted on the top of a circle enclosing a four-petaled flower.

As if to highlight the loss of this scruffy little habitat I find the body of a young deer. Soggy from the rain, legs bent, it looks like an abandoned child’s toy. It could be sleeping but it is dead. Just another “road kill” to add to the yearly toll of 1.5 million deer-vehicle collisions nationally, according to the American Insurance Information Institute.

Loss of habitat and habitat fragmentation are cited as the biggest reasons for the increase in collisions so we must ready ourselves for many more.

Some collisions can be avoided with careful driving, headlights that are angled to the side of the road and can shine around corners, a “strobe mode” that could be turned off in built up areas, headlights that use UV light because apparently deer do not see our bright lights as “bright.”

Deer whistles that make rapid thudding or clapping sounds that could be turned on in deer-populated areas and turned off in the city.

I hit a deer traveling at 65 mph and came to a dead stop — literally for the deer. The seat belt and the airbags saved me. My new car was totaled. It seemed to just “arrive” on my windshield. I saw its eye and it looked surprised. Then it flopped to the side of the road and died. An experience I hope will not happen again. But it might and it will happen to one in 169 people a year, according to State Farm.

Nothing is foolproof, nothing is guaranteed but we need to start insisting that vehicle manufacturers design something that does work more efficiently than anything that we have at the moment.

Jennifer Gold, of Buffalo, is an author and radio and magazine journalist.

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