With minds focused on mating, whitetail deer and moose are now on the move, significantly raising the danger of unpleasant interactions with vehicles on the state's roadways, warns the wildlife division of Connecticut's Department of Energy and Environmental Conservation (DEEP). The animals are most likely to be up to their hijinks during the early morning and evening, when most vehicular accidents occur.
The irony of having to issue a warning about these two big wild creatures is magnificent: at a time when environmentalists worry about disappearing wild lands, species of large animals once rare or vanished from the state are repopulating our woodlands. I am 73 years old and in my youth most Nutmeggers had never seen a deer -- or for that matter, a bear -- in the wild, much less a moose.
Moose? It is no secret that since the 1990s, they have been filtering back into the state from the north and are breeding here for the first time since the early 19th Century. (The same is true of black bears.) Most biologists believe that the hills of northern Connecticut marked the southern margins of the moose's historic range, so probably the species was never abundant here. The presence of even a handful of these creatures today is remarkable. Actually, more than a handful because perhaps 100 or more moose inhabit the state, say biologists. Moreover, although moose are wilderness animals, individuals often venture out of the trees into settled areas, most recently last week on the outskirts of Waterbury.
One of the reasons why deer and, now, moose are increasing in the state is that abandoned farmlands have reverted to forest, creating -- or recreating -- suitable habitat. Taking advantage of the increased deer populations, state wildlife biologists have managed them for decades, whereas once the whitetail was considered vermin. They now do the same for moose.
The increase in whitetails and moose is not restricted to Connecticut. Whitetail populations are booming throughout most of their North American range (they are found from Peru to Canada). Moose in the northeast also have multiplied, so that the population in northern New England has overflowed into Massachusetts, which has about 1,000 of them, and Bay State moose in turn have colonized Connecticut.
More deer and moose mean more highway collisions with them. Many more. Deer collisions cause $1 billion in damage annually in the United States. Last year, says DEEP, about 7,500 deer were killed on Connecticut's highways. Since 1995, two dozen accidents with moose were reported. Colliding with a 150-pound deer is bad enough. Hitting a 1,200-pound moose is a nightmare that is frequently fatal.
To help prevent the problems of road accidents with deer -- and, up north, moose -- highway departments have peppered the roadsides with warning signs. The signs work because drivers who see them do tend to slow down, says a recent Canadian study reported a couple of weeks ago in the Wildlife Society Bulletin, but the scattershot method is a poor substitute for careful placement. Rather than arbitrarily sticking signs where deer are likely to be found, say scientists who studied the problem in Edmunton, Alberta, Canada, signs should be pinpointed in well-documented centers of high deer activity, taking seasonal behavior into account.
DEEP has set Nov. 5 and Nov. 12, both Saturdays, as junior hunter training days for deer hunting on both state and private lands. Licensed junior hunters with valid permits -- and consent forms for private land -- can hunt with a licensed hunter age 18 or older. The adult cannot carry a firearm.
Hammonasset Beach State Park in Madison is a prime birding spot for fall migrants. Madison's Audubon Shop, 907 Boston Post Road, holds Saturday morning birdwalks there through Nov. 19. It's a chance to see shorebirds, waders, hawks, falcons, owls and more. Cost is $4 per person. Walkers meet at the shop at 7:50 a.m. and car pool to the park. Phone number: 888-505-9056.