Coronavirus, Cars, and Deer Conservation

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No one wants to see whitetail fatalities along the highway, but reducing highway mortality is not deer conservation.
No one wants to see whitetail fatalities along the highway, but reducing highway mortality is not deer conservation.

Fewer deer are getting hit by cars during the coronavirus quarantine. That’s why several writers have said fewer deer/car impacts are a benefit to conservation. You may have read one of their articles, but don’t believe them. They’re not telling the truth about conservation.

No driver who avoids hitting a deer has performed an act of conservation. That’s not to say no good comes from successful avoidance of deer on the highway. Lots of good comes from it.

Drivers spare themselves an expensive car repair, or at least the deductible they would have paid.

They help their insurance companies to turn higher profits, which arguably might reduce insurance premiums for themselves and other drivers.

They may save lives. Deer collisions result in about 200 human fatalities each year. Fewer human deaths mean avoiding huge negative financial and emotional impacts on families.

Each time a driver doesn’t kill a deer, the driver keeps that dead and bloody deer from lying along the highway, sparing what is essentially decomposing litter from the sight of passersby.
We can argue that all these things (and more) are silver linings to the coronavirus, but we can’t argue that hitting fewer deer with our cars is a plus for conservation. It’s not.

I remember years ago seeing a mother deer dead along a highway near my house. Sadly, within a couple of days both her fawns were also hit. But even if the doe had not been killed and her fawns survived with her, that would have had a negligible short-term impact on the deer population and no long-term impact at all.

Sparing the lives of deer along the roadways does not add to the population of deer. If a thousand deer in a state are “saved” from cars during the coronavirus quarantine, the deer population benefits barely an iota. In the bigger picture it means virtually nothing for conservation.
Conservationists, wildlife biologists and hunters know that summertime has a higher population of deer than spring, fall or winter. Wildlife biologists factor that into their plans for the hunting seasons. They anticipate the number of deer that hunters will kill, and if the deer population is higher (due to lower highway mortality) hunters will kill more deer. If it gets too high, wildlife managers will allocate more antlerless deer tags to increase the number of deer killed before the young arrive in the spring.

More than anything else, what governs the deer population and deer health is the carrying capacity of the land. Lower highway deer deaths caused by a temporary reduction in driving might reasonably be used by wildlife managers to increase the deer kill. That offsets a reduction in highway deer mortality.

If we could magically reduce the number of deer killed by cars to zero, hunters would need to kill a few more because hunting is conservation.

Road kill is not conservation. It’s much more complicated than that. Remember that drivers bought their cars on lots that were once wildlife habitat, and park their cars on thousands of business parking lots that cover land deer once used. Pavement and all that goes with it, more than anything else, has reduced the carrying capacity of the land. That’s a far greater negative factor on wildlife populations than the positive factor of cars remaining in the garage during the coronavirus quarantine.

The idea that the coronavirus quarantine has helped conservation because fewer deer are killed by people going to the grocery store might help drivers feel good, but it’s not worth a drop of gasoline in the tanks of their cars.

When “The Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting, he’s thinking about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, writing about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. If you want to tell Steve exactly where your favorite hunting spot is, contact him through his website, www.EverydayHunter.com. He writes for top outdoor magazines, and won the 2015 and 2018 national “Pinnacle Award” for outdoor writing.