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Collisions involving deer are a fact of life up here

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In the Methow Valley, it’s not a question of if your car is going to hit a deer, it’s when.

Actually, I need to modify that. About half the time we don’t hit the deer, it hits us — usually by jumping out of the brush beside the road.

A wag once said, “The Methow Valley is where deer go to die.”

There are somewhere in the neighborhood of 20,000 deer in various herds in the Valley. Unfortunately, they generally graze and browse in the uplands and cross the highway to get a drink at the river.

The stretch between Mazama and Twisp is one of the most expensive in the state. The Insurance Information Institute says that the average claim for a deer-vehicle collisions is $3,100. I believe that. Over the years my husband has tangled with 12 deer between our house and Winthrop. Once he hit another deer before he could even get to his appointment to fix the damage caused by the first one.

The wildlife people say there are some 400 deer deaths per year in the Valley. But that doesn’t take into account all the animals that limp into the woods after a collision and become meals for unseen coyotes, crows and other scavengers.

Some people advocate deer whistles — gizmos that hook on to your bumpers which are supposed to emit a high sound only deer can hear. The theory is the noise hurts their ears and frightens them away.

People claim that they haven’t hit a deer since installing whistles. Others say there is no telling which way a deer will run when she hears it — but it is usually in front of your truck.

The Department of Transportation has tried various methods of cutting down on deer collisions. They installed reflectors that shine light from headlights back to the side of the road; they’ve built fencing; they even installed flashing laser lights. But nothing seems to work all that well.

A local coalition installed warning signs at each end of the Valley listing how many deer-car collisions have occurred during the current year and the cost involved. But I’m not sure how many out-of-town drivers take time to read the warning. Locals know to drive 45 at dusk, tourists pass them at 65.

Around here the final thing hosts say to guests before they leave is “Watch for deer.” It is a warning and a loving way of saying “I care about you.”

Who knows what will happen on the way home?

Mazama author Mary Rea is author of the novel “Ladies Night Out.”  Her blog, which follows where her mind wanders, is at maryreabooks.com.  She can be reached at m2rea@earthlink.net.

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