Polk Road a slaughterhouse for deer
It happens when the motorist least expects it, and that's the problem. Too few drivers anticipate the suicidal antics of Central Oregon's deer.
Highway 20 and Highway 97 see their share of dead deer, but the bucolic Camp Polk Road is also claiming deer in great droves.
In terms of dead deer per mile, few stretches of road can rival the deer slaughter along the one mile of roadway between the Sisters Airport and Indian Ford Creek.
In 1996, after the wooded avenue claimed at least 12 deer within a period of several weeks, residents requested -- and received -- deer warning signs for the area.
In order for the signs to be effective, however, motorists must heed the warning.
In just the last two weeks, five more dead deer on that deadly Camp Polk Road mile would seem to indicate that they are not.
Steve George is a game biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), and he says that automobile and wildlife accidents are on the rise in Central Oregon.
"We see it increasing every year," he said. "More and more deer are falling victim to automobiles."
Exact figures on deer road kill are elusive.
For example, deer road kill figures from the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) for the last 25 years show annual known totals of 0 to 66 animals on the 26 miles between Santiam Junction and Sisters.
The numbers are just as spotty between Sisters and Bend.
The most recent statistics, for 1998, show only six dead deer; and most of us can recall seeing more than that ourselves.
A dead deer at the roadside is a sure indicator, but many injured deer struggle off to die in the woods and are never seen -- or counted. Predators and scavengers haul away many of the carcasses, too.
George puts the blame for rising road kill on increased traffic and increasing speeds, and the airport stretch of Camp Polk Road is a good example.
The area's population is growing rapidly, and all that traffic into town is funneled into that one road.
After several recent incidents with wandering cows, the road was also posted with warning signs for cattle.
Still, despite the curves, limited visibility and dense roadside cover, many motorists continue to drive at freeway speeds. The results are predictable.
Deer fatalities and vehicle damage continue to mount.
George says that certain local conditions may contribute to an area's susceptibility to deer fatalities.
In the case of Camp Polk Road, for example, deer may be driven by dry conditions to cross the road for water in Indian Ford Creek.
Other factors can contribute, as well.
George notes that "More and more people feed deer, and that's increasing the number of local, resident deer. Those deer tend to get hit by cars more frequently throughout the year."
ODOT representative Shelly Schmidt agrees that deer fatalities are on the rise and says that her agency is studying the problem. She suggests that warning signs, flags and message boards have had "limited success."
Schmidt said that ODOT is gathering information on the problem from national and international sources.
So far, the study already includes road engineering designs, barrier systems, and warning devices.
She also spoke of a research project along Highway 97.
"ODOT and ODFW will be working to monitor deer kill, deer crossings, and deer behavior as they approach and cross the highway," she said. "This research effort will begin this fall."
Deer, however, are wild animals and don't understand automobiles. Therefore, it seems that it must ultimately fall to the people who choose to live and travel among the deer to find a solution.
In the meantime, motorists would do well to exercise caution and -- above all -- slow down.