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Deer-involved vehicle collisions nearly double in June in NM
San Juan County had the most deer-involved vehicle collisions statewide in 2014 and 2015
FARMINGTON — The increase in the number of collisions between deer and automobiles statewide nearly doubles from May to June, and some officials believe it's related to the rising summer temperatures.
The insurance company State Farm released data earlier this month that showed more than 12 percent of all deer collisions in 2016 in New Mexico occurred in June compared to fewer than 7 percent in May, according to a press release.
But drivers worried about experiencing such a collision can be comforted by the fact that the numbers begin to dwindle again in July.
The data — based on State Farm's claims and the number of state-licensed drivers — also showed there was a 1 in 415 chance that a vehicle in New Mexico would strike a deer in 2016.
The company's data varies widely from state to state, even among those that border each other. In Arizona, the chances of a deer colliding with a vehicle are 1 in 1,175, while Utah had a 1-in-150 chance and Colorado had a 1-in-264 chance.
State Farm's numbers are similar to preliminary figures compiled by the New Mexico Department of Transportation for 2016.
There were 58 deer-involved crashes statewide in June 2016, or 12.2 percent of all crashes for 2016, according to NMDOT figures.
June was the month with the most deer-involved collisions in 2016, with 51 occurring in March and 50 taking place in December.
For May 2016, 36 deer-involved crashes occurred statewide, or 7.6 percent of all crashes for 2016. The figure for July 2016 statewide also was 36.
Most deer/vehicle collisions usually only involve damage to the vehicle and don't result in injuries to passengers, Sgt. Terry McCoy of the San Juan County Sheriff's Office said.
NMDOT data shows 35 of the 474 deer-involved crashes statewide in 2016, approximately 7.4 percent, left passengers injured.
McCoy added the Sheriff's Office doesn't see a lot of deer/vehicle collisions, but when they occur, they tend to happen more on rural county roads than highways in rural areas.
But San Juan County was the county with the most deer-involved crashes in New Mexico with 94 in 2014 and 100 in 2015, according to NMDOT.
Grant County in southwest New Mexico had the second-most deer-involved crashes in that time period, registering 83 in 2014 and 98 in 2015.
According to preliminary figures, Grant County overtook San Juan County in 2016 with 70 crashes as San Juan County registered 66 deer-involved crashes.
McCoy and other officials interviewed for this story did not have a firm idea of why deer-involved crashes typically double from May to June statewide, but some believe it's due to the rising summer temperatures, which they say prompt deer to seek water from nearby waterways more often.
Donna Thatcher, a museum specialist at the Riverside Nature Center in Farmington, said water is in more demand for deer in June because it's hot and rarely rains, drying up many of their normal water sources.
She believes that leads to an increase in deer crossing busy streets to get access to places along the Animas River.
Farmington animal control park ranger Rebecca Maynard said two of the places where deer tend to cross East Main Street are by the Red Lobster restaurant and farther east near the Melloy Honda car dealership.
Hall Sawyer, a research biologist at Western Ecosystems Technology, Inc. in Laramie, Wyo., a company that provides environmental and statistical consulting services, said in an email the deer in the San Juan Basin tend to migrate in late April and May. Sawyer recent worked on a mule deer study in the San Juan Basin and said he doesn't believe that migration corresponds with the increase in collisions with vehicles.
The migration data comes from the monitoring of mule deer near Navajo Lake, which Sawyer said tend to migrate north to Colorado for the summer.
Joshua Kellogg covers crime, courts and social issues for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627.