Drivers need to be wary of deer in Springbrook Prairie area
By Susan Frick Carlman firstname.lastname@example.org November 13, 2012 5:02PM
The number of deer-related accidents in Kane County was up in the most recent reporting period, mirroring a statewide trend.| AP~file photo
by the numbers: vehicle vs. deer accidents in Illinois
About three in every four crashes in 2011 occurred on rural roadways and 71 percent occurred at twilight or nighttime.
Source: Illinois Department of Transportation
Updated: December 15, 2012 6:06AM
You better watch out.
No, Santa’s not coming to town quite yet. Right now, drivers need to be more on the lookout for deer.
The 1,840 acres in central Naperville that comprise Springbrook Prairie, southeast of Route 59 and 75th Street, are understandably a mecca for wildlife. The area is also a relatively dangerous place for deer and driver alike.
The Forest Preserve District of DuPage County reports that the roads adjacent to Springbrook see the most deer-vehicle collisions of all the public lands where it does deer management activities. Last year, seven accidents met the reporting requirement of at least $1,500 worth of damage to the vehicle involved. In 2010, there were 10 such collisions tallied on the roads that surround and bisect Springbrook.
Although agencies in the region have achieved some success in their efforts to keep deer herds in balance with the rest of the plant and animal populations, the hooved grazers reproduce with gusto. For a couple of reasons, they present an elevated risk at this time of year.
Deer are crepuscular, meaning they’re especially active at dawn and dusk. On most days, those periods coincide with the highest volumes of traffic on area roads. Compounding the risk is the animals’ reproductive cycle, which puts them in the mood for mating in the fall. When deer are “in rut” — the term given to breeding readiness — they move about more than at other times, driven by their quest for mates.
“Some of the deer are kind of focused on one thing, so they’re moving around, kind of trying to get together with other deer,” said Brian Kraskiewicz, an ecologist with the Forest Preserve District.
In the headlights
The singular focus doesn’t always spell doom for the deer.
“I’ve seen deer walk up to the road, stop, literally look both ways and then go,” Kraskiewicz said. “Some deer are smart.”
Some aren’t. According to experts at the University of Illinois Extension Service, most deer-vehicle collisions occur during October, November and December. May and June are another peak, as 1-year-old deer are moving into new areas.
The sprawling Springbrook preserve is just one of the places where deer hang out in Naperville.
“Last year we had one that walked down the center of our street at 7 in the morning, which was amazing,” said northeast Naperville resident Lisa Flanagan.
Deer often congregate near Flanagan’s home, she said, at a spot where several houses were razed a while back north of Plank Road on Naperville-Wheaton Road. But they’re not shy about going where humans gather; she said she and her husband came across a doe and three spotted fawns in nearby Seager Park one morning over the summer. Their numbers, she said, seem to be up in the neighborhood.
“My son goes to work at Jewel at 2 in the morning, because he bakes,” Flanagan said. “So I always tell him to be careful and watch for deer.”
Motorist safety is a benefit, but not the primary reason, for the forest district’s management program, which launched its annual maintenance activities last week. Enlisting the skills of sharpshooters who go into the preserves overnight, the goal is to limit the concentration of deer to no more than 20 per square mile. Meat harvested from the animals killed through the program is donated to area food pantries.
“The reason why we do it is the deer are causing damage to the ecosystem,” Kraskiewicz said. “They eat native forbs, they’ll eat native woody plants, oaks and hickories.”
When deer numbers are disproportionate to the other fauna in open areas, the food chain goes out of balance and a ripple effect is the result, with other species struggling to find enough to eat.
“The ecosystem just can’t support the number of deer that are out there in some areas,” he said. “We want to keep their population low so they don’t get back to the numbers we were seeing in the ‘90s.”
Begun more than two decades ago, the program is proving effective from the perspective of those who live near the preserve — maybe it’s working a little too well. Joe Battoe, who has lived adjacent to Springbrook Prairie for more than 25 years, said he was disappointed when he received word that the annual deer control initiative would be starting up again soon.
“I would say there are far fewer deer in the last five or so years than ever before,” Battoe said in an email to The Sun. “I used to enjoy my occasional encounter with a deer or small group of deer. In recent years, those encounters (sightings) have become very rare — perhaps once or twice a year.”
The numbers lend credence to Battoe’s observation — or lack of it. After aiming to thin Springbrook’s herd by 55 deer last year, this time around there are thought to be only about 20 too many, Kraskiewicz said.
Generally, however, experts say deer populations are exploding across Illinois. Springbrook illustrates one of the reasons: deer are living close to subdivisions and in other areas where hunters cannot go. Some experts also bemoan that where hunters are permitted, their preference for big-horned bucks leaves behind larger proportions of fertile females. A doe typically gives birth to twins annually for about a decade.
Cook County, dotted with forest preserves that are home to deer and other wildlife, and Will County, with extensive stretches of undeveloped farm land, see more crashes between vehicle and animal than areas that are more filled in, such as DuPage. The two counties reported nearly 1,000 incidents during 2011. But even in DuPage, cars collided with deer 131 times last year, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation.
Statewide, there were 18,039 deer-related crashes in 2011, compared to 17,135 in 2010, IDOT announced in a report late last month.
Even though crashes were up overall last year, injuries declined and fewer people died. Six fatalities were reported statewide in 2011, a decline from 10 in 2010, according to IDOT. Most of the deaths were in central Illinois.
Injuries in those accidents declined from 634 in 2010 to 613 in 2011. IDOT spokesman Josh Kauffman said authorities are attributing the decline in human harm to increased awareness.
“Obviously that’s a really good sign, that fatalities are 30 percent less,” he said.
The average animal-related auto claim costs more than $3,300, according to Insurance Navy, an association of insurance brokers in Illinois.
Kauffman said IDOT won’t know about the 2012 numbers until all the local accident reports are received, some time in 2013.
Defensive driving, he emphasized, is still the best way to avoid hitting these animals.
“Be particularly cautious at dusk and dawn when deer are the most active,” he said.
Sun-Times Media freelance writer Matt Brennan contributed.