For the fifth consecutive year, the number of dead deer removed from Columbia County roads has decreased. Experts aren’t sure why.
In 2013, Columbia County Animal Services retrieved and disposed of 408 carcasses, Operations Manager Daniel Mayne said. That’s down from 436 in 2012. Since 2009, the county has seen a 36 percent decrease in the amount of dead deer recovered from roads.
Numbers in Richmond County tell a different story.
Since 2009, Augusta Animal Services has seen a 167 percent increase in the amount of dead deer retrieved from Richmond County roads. In 2013, animal services picked up 75 carcasses, up from to 68 in 2012.
Deer “don’t follow any sort of county borders. If one county pushes development, they can definitely move,” said Lee Taylor, the regional game management supervisor for the Wildlife Resources Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. “With any development, as soon as you plant azaleas and things like that, it will bring them back. It may just be a blip, but it’s kind of hard to say.”
The numbers for Columbia and Richmond counties do not include roads maintained by the Georgia Department of Transportation, which is responsible for major routes such as Interstate 20 and Bobby Jones Expressway. Department spokeswoman Cissy McNure said it does not maintain such numbers.
The drop in dead deer, Taylor said, could be a sign of a decline in the overall population within the county.
He estimates that there are 950,000 deer in Georgia, which is down from more than a million in the early 1990s.
“Usually, the overall deer population correlates fairly closely to the number of deer-vehicle collisions, so the overall population is likely on the decline in Columbia County,” he said. “Perhaps the developments have pushed them farther away from the roads. I know Columbia County used to be more rural, so the woods would run right up to the road.”
The decrease in population might prove to be a good thing, Taylor said. Last year, a study by the Georgia DOT found Columbia County to be ranked among the worst for deer-vehicle crashes.
From 2000 to 2006, Columbia County saw 2,562 deer-vehicle accidents, which ranked fourth in the state behind Henry, Fayette and Gwinnett counties, according to the study. Henry County, which ranked first, saw 3,595 accidents over the same span.
“I must admit, I was surprised when I moved to Columbia County that it was in the top 10 throughout the state (in deer-vehicle crashes),” Taylor said. “I live in Evans and I drive through Columbia County every day, but you would never expect to have numbers that high.”
Taylor said the number of deaths usually spike in fall because of the shorter days.
“Deer are most active at dawn and dusk, and with the shortening of the days, people are commuting during their most active periods,” he said. “Also, the fall season is their breeding season. You’ll have a lot of males whose home range can double or triple for that time of year.”
Columbia County Animal Services doesn’t just retrieve deer killed by vehicles; some hunters will leave their trophies behind.
“We do occasionally see people dumping deer carcasses,” Mayne said. “They’ll go hunting and field dress them before leaving the carcass on the side of the road.”
When animal services recover a carcass, Mayne said it cremates the deer at its Grovetown facility.