Deer-vehicle collisions are a nationwide problem, killing an estimated 150 people each year and causing a billion dollars worth of damage, researchers say.
And, with as many as 2,500 deer roaming its property on any given day, Berry College is the perfect setting to study ways to avoid the collisions.
George Gallagher, professor of animal science, and his team of Berry students are collaborating with Bob Warren and Karl Miller of the University of Georgia to develop methods and devices to minimize deer-vehicle collisions. Their efforts are part of a seven-year study funded by the Georgia Department of Transportation.
“We do all our preliminary lab work at UGA’s captive deer facility and all the field work at Berry,” said Gallagher. “Berry represents a very wonderful urban deer population.”
Their past experiments have been designed to measure how a deer perceives and reacts to sights and sounds — in order to better understand the anatomy and physiology of the animal.
A common misconception is that deer have excellent hearing, Gallagher said.
“The truth is, their hearing is much closer to our hearing,” he said.
The current, yearlong, study is focusing on the effectiveness of a new fence designed to keep deer off roadways and lessen the possibility of an accident.
As part of this study, a two-mile stretch of temporary fencing has been constructed along Lavender Mountain Drive, which connects Berry’s main and mountain campuses.
One mile consists of the standard eight-foot fence often seen along highways.
“A deer can typically jump an eight-foot to ninefoot fence,” Gallagher said. This type of fence will work 80 to 90 percent of the time, but it’s relatively expensive and unattractive, he said.
The second mile consists of a new cost-effective design previously tested on the captive deer herd at UGA.
The new design is a fence with Bayco wire lined along the top and angled away from the road.
“Because of the angle, deer are a lot less likely to want to jump the fence,” Gallagher explained.
At the same time, if a deer is on the side of the road and comes upon the fence, it is more likely to jump over the fence to the safer side.
“The goal is to provide a fence that balances the need to minimize deer-vehicle collisions with a more cost-effective design, better suited for implementation and maintenance by Georgia and other DOT operations,” he said.
Before building the fence, teams of researchers canvassed the area around Lavender Mountain Drive in an effort to fit deer with GPS radio collars. Once deer have been collared, researchers are able to track their movements and learn more about their habits.
“The GPS collars provide an unprecedented glimpse into deer behavior by giving us a location update every 30 minutes, 24 hours a day, for an entire year,” Gallagher explained.
“This type of information allows us to develop a better understanding of their behavior, which, in turn, puts us in a better position to try to determine how to alter their actions.”
In an effort to be as humane as possible, researchers used both tranquilizer darts and rocket-propelled nets to capture the deer without causing undue injury.
With the fences up, and the GPS collars on approximately 20 deer around Lavender Mountain Drive, Gallagher and his team are now collecting data.
Gallagher said he is hoping to provide more insight about the new fence by January.
“I’m not a fan of the high fences. I’m hoping we’ll have a fence design that is cost-effective and effective for the deer,” he said. “Now, we’re just waiting and letting the deer be deer.”
Rome News Tribune