Tired of car-deer collisions, she’s taken warning drivers into her own hands

A dedicated resident has taken it upon herself to try to curb deer-car collisions in Bellingham.

“I initially saw a deer get hit on Electric Street and it was just really awful,” said Susan Kane-Ronning, a Bellingham psychologist. She said it was traumatic to have to wait for a police officer to come and kill the injured deer.

She recently placed eight signs along streets that she found to have high concentrations of deer and vehicle collisions. Some of those signs were placed on Barkley Boulevard, North Shore Drive, Alabama Street and in the Edgemoor neighborhood.

Kane-Ronning said she spent the past four years reaching out to the state wildlife agency and the mayor with the hope that the city would use data to identify areas where deer frequently cross roads and are hit by cars and try to reduce collisions.

Unsatisfied with the city’s responsiveness to the issue, Kane-Ronning decided to try to identify some collision hot-spots herself. She used maps created by the WSDOT, which showed where more than 350 deer carcasses had been removed over the past 3 years. Although it is unclear if all the deaths were from traffic collisions, as some of the causes of death are unknown, she said a clustering of deaths in places such as Electric Street and Lakeway Drive is evident.

After looking at maps of the data, Kane-Ronning noticed that the collisions appeared to be clustered in areas where deer pass through wildlife corridors. A wildlife corridor is a path used by animals to move between their habitats, according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

She decided to place warning signs to alert drivers that deer frequently cross in those areas. The first eight signs, which cost nearly $500 in total, were funded by volunteers and approved by the city’s public works department, Kane-Ronning said.

However, within 24-hours of putting them up, most of the signs were gone. Kane-Ronning said she wasn’t sure why someone would remove the signs but has filed a police report.

Kane-Ronning hopes if she presents compelling data to the city of Bellingham, they can use it to lower the number of deer-caused wrecks in these areas.

Eric Johnston, interim director of Public Works, doesn’t see additional signs reducing the number of wrecks in these areas.

“Given the disbursed and ubiquitous presence of wildlife throughout the city, additional signage at a few specific locations is not likely to result in a change in driver behavior or reduction in collisions,” Johnston told The Bellingham Herald.

Johnston wrote in an email that the city has not identified any “spatial patterns” in wildlife and vehicle collisions that warrants additional signs, but is open to looking at Kane-Ronning’s data.

Kane-Ronning said she has been in contact with City Councilman Gene Knutson and is hoping to present her data at a city council meeting in the future.

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Warren Sterling in a graduate of Reed College of Media at West Virginia University. He interned at Politifact.com before joining The Bellingham Herald as a summer 2019 intern.