Deer Tracked to eliminate I-280 Deaths
- Tom StienstraSan Francisco Chronicle December 25, 2011 04:00 AM Copyright San Francisco Chronicle. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Sunday, December 25, 2011
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A quest to solve one of the Bay Area's biggest wildlife mysteries is under way. In the process, the Department of Fish and Game hopes to find a way to protect a deer herd on the Peninsula.
The mystery is why a 13-mile stretch of Interstate 280, from Millbrae to Woodside, has become a hot spot for deer strikes by cars. The quest is how to stop it.
Earlier this month in the foothills along 280, biologists shot 14 female deer with tranquilizer darts. While the deer were sedated, the scientists took blood and hair samples, recorded size and weight, inspected their health, and then fitted them with GPS collars.
Researchers will track the deer as the animals look for food, water, protected areas to sleep and for mates.
"We're doing this because deer are getting hit by cars," said Janice Mackey of the state Department of Fish and Game.
"All the deer captured appeared to be healthy," said David Casady, a DFG biologist. "Many of them had fawns of all ages at their side."
One of the wildlife oddities amid California's expanding population, now at 37.5 million people, has been a basic change of deer migratory behavior. Many deer no longer migrate during the course of a year because highways and subdivisions block their traditional routes. They instead live within a 5-mile radius their entire lives and become semi-domesticated by contact with people.
"Deer were traditionally meant to be spread out, and when the seasons change, they are supposed to be traveling," Mackey said. That has become rare in urban areas and the Sierra foothills.
When deer instead stay in one area, she said that could attract predators, such as mountain lions.
The GPS collar study will track the fate of the 14 darted this month and try to determine why they leave the wilds of the Crystal Springs watershed and the San Francisco State Fish and Game Refuge to venture across I-280.
Automatic release mechanisms will cause the collars to fall off the deer in early summer. At that time, DFG will start another round of darting, inspecting and collaring deer. This will be the second phase in a three-phase program during the next year and a half.
The program is being conducted by DFG biologists and UC Davis researchers and is funded by Caltrans.
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