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Wildlife collisions dangerous

About 14 reported each year


by: PHOTO COURTESY OF OREGON STATE POLICE - A collision between a fuel tanker truck and an elk, on U.S. Highway 26, about 23 miles northwest of Warm Springs, resulted in a 5,000 gallon spill.When the deer jumped out from behind some brush, about an hour before sunrise several weeks ago, a collision was inevitable.

High school junior Amanda Barrett, of Madras, estimated that she was only going 30 miles per hour when she slammed on her brakes, but it was dark and the deer struck the front of the car, shattering the grill, denting the hood, and puncturing the air conditioning.

Barrett, 16, was driving to school in a friend's car when the collision occurred, and immediately took charge of the situation. "For my passenger, it was quite traumatic," she said. "She was quite shaken up."

"I was just trying to stay as calm as possible," said Barret, whose training as a lifeguard taught her "to not elevate situations."

Instead, she got out of the car and evaluated the scene: no one was injured, but the deer probably had broken legs, and she heard a hissing noise from under the hood.

by: HOLLY M. GILL - Amanda Barrett, 16,  stands in the location where the vehicle she was driving was hit by a deer on Oct. 25. Barrett and her passenger were not hurt.She called her uncle who lived nearby to check the vehicle, reported the crash to police, and had her friend call her parents in order to distract her.

Barrett was fortunate that she was still in a residential area, so the crash was at a low speed, and the vehicle was drivable.

Last week, the Oregon Department of Transportation released its statistics for the past decade that show that collisions with wildlife have been on the rise in Oregon. Statewide, there were 1,283 collisions reported in 2012 — up from 1,199 in 2011, but officials believe that most collisions aren't reported, since they only involve damage to the vehicle. Over the past decade, a total of 30 people have died in those crashes.

Since 2003, Jefferson County has had no fatal crashes involving wildlife, but has averaged 14 collisions per year. In 2012, there were only 12 reported, but there were 18 in 2011, 19 in 2010, and 25 in 2009.

Oregon State Police trooper Clint Prevett, of Madras, has witnessed the results of many of the crashes in this area. "I deal with them on a regular basis," he said, noting that wildlife are on the move this time of year.

From late October until late November, the deer rut season is in full swing, making deer more active and likely to cross roads.

"A lot of people end up hitting deer," said Prevett, adding that they don't always report the collisions. "If there's only minor damage, they end up leaving them. If they're still alive, we get calls. If people are still there, we take a report if there's significant damage."

In Central Oregon, there have been several serious crashes involving wildlife over the past five months — most recently the collision between a fuel truck and an elk on U.S. Highway 26, on the Warm Springs Reservation, near milepost 81 in Wasco County.

The semi truck and trailer overturned just after 9 p.m., and spilled about 5,000 gallons of fuel. The driver received serious injuries, and the highway was blocked for most of the night.

Before sunrise on Sept. 8, a commercial truck driver swerved to avoid several deer in the roadway on U.S. Highway 97, south of Grass Valley. The driver lost control and rolled the truck, and received nonlife-threatening injuries.

The most serious occurred on June 23, when a motorcyclist on Highway 19, west of Spray in Wheeler County, struck a deer during daylight hours. A passing motorist found the deceased motorcyclist.

Statistically, the worst month for crashes is November, followed by October, September, July and August, in that order.

OSP, ODOT and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife urge drivers to be particularly vigilant this time of year, when deer are in rut, there are fewer daylight hours, and there is the potential for winter weather conditions.

"Slow down, especially at night," said Prevett. "During dusk and dawn, they're on the move. And pay attention to the sides of the road."

As happened in Barrett's case, officials caution drivers to watch for vegetation next to the road that can camouflage wildlife, or corners that limit visibility.

Some areas that are known crossing areas are signed, but other areas may not be as obvious.

"In some years, it's different," said Prevett. "One year, at Jericho, right before the canal crossing, the deer were crossing there, but just that one year."

When you see an animal or wildlife on or near the roadway, reduce your speed and avoid swerving, which can cause loss of vehicle control. Also, be aware that one deer or other mammal might mean that others are nearby.

Most importantly, officials recommend that drivers always wear their seat belts, since even a minor crash, like Barrett's, can result in serious injury. Because she was driving cautiously and wearing her seat belt, Barrett and her passenger were not injured, and even managed to make it to school on time.



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