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One in 323 state drivers may hit a deer

One out of 323 Oregon drivers can expect to hit a deer with their vehicle, ranking the state in the safest third of states, according to an annual survey of this bumper crop of backwoods fauna.

Oregon again ranks 35th among states when it comes to deer-vehicle collisions, according to annual claims data calculated by State Farm auto insurance.

State Farm estimates that 1.09 million vehicles hit deer nationwide between July 1, 2010, and June 30, 2011. That's down 7 percent from the previous year and 9 percent from three years ago.

For the fifth year in a row, West Virginia is the worst state to be a driver in deer country — or a deer near a roadway. Claims data and state driver counts show that one out of 53 West Virginia drivers will hit a deer in the next 12 months, but that's down from the 1-in-42 chance tallied a year ago, according to State Farm.

Iowa is second on the list, with drivers having a 1-in-77 chance of hitting a deer. South Dakota is third with a 1-in-81 chance.

The state where deer-vehicle collisions are least likely is always Hawaii, where one in 6,267 licensed motorists are projected to hit a deer next year, according to State Farm.

"The odds of a Hawaiian driver colliding with a deer between now and 12 months from now are approximately equal to the odds that you are a practicing nudist," State Farm stated in a news release this week.

In the 12-month window studied by State Farm, Oregon's 2.8 million licensed drivers struck 8,809 deer. That's down 12 percent from the previous year.

Though wildlife biologists have used insurance-company data for estimating animal-vehicle collisions, not all believe what they see.

Simon Wray, an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist who is the agency's liaison with the Oregon Department of Transportation, says animal-vehicle collisions went up 18.3 percent in Oregon between 2004 and 2009.

Wray says that road building in animal habitat is outpacing our ability to mitigate the impacts, such as a recent project that built underpasses on Highway 97 to give mule deer and other animals safe passage past that roadway.

Those underpasses, near Sunriver, were dedicated Friday, Wray says.

Also, special fencing is planned for a stretch of Interstate 5 near Sunny Valley as part of a widening project, Wray says. The fencing is meant to reduce vehicle collisions with Roosevelt elk in the area.

"We're chipping away at those sorts of problem areas, and things are going to get better there," Wray says.

Wray suspects that insurance-company numbers could be misleading, and that the weak economy has fewer motorists reporting their collisions than before.

High demand from fall campers has enticed a private vendor running campgrounds on the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest to keep two of its campgrounds open later into October than normal.

Rogue Recreation of Prospect announced that the Whiskey Springs Campground it runs will remain open through the next two weeks, closing Oct. 17.

Also, the Farewell Bend Campground will open this weekend and close Monday.

Both campgrounds have dry firewood for sale.

Rogue Recreation earlier closed the Union Creek, Abbott Creek, Forbit Ford, Fish Lake, Doe Point and Hamaker campgrounds for the season.

ScienceWorks Hands-On Museum will celebrate International Observe the Moon Night with a Moon Party from 6:30 to 10:30 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 8, at 1500 E. Main St., Ashland.

Participants can bring their own telescopes or view the moon through one of ScienceWorks' 8-inch Dobsonian telescopes.

Members of Southern Oregon Skywatchers will be on site to explain what is being seen through the telescopes, and will share their knowledge about the moon, planets, stars and more.

Admission is free. For information, call 541-482-6767 or see www.scienceworksmuseum.org

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com.