Turkeys in traffic — and bears, elk and moose, oh my!

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Michigan police agencies reported 232 vehicle crashes involving turkeys in 2016. Image: Wikimedia Commons

By Jingjing Nie
Capital News Service

Michigan drivers know to watch for deer on the road — the state recorded 46,870 car-deer accidents in 2016.

But have you ever heard of a driving hazard caused by turkeys?

Michigan police agencies reported 232 vehicle crashes involving the birds in 2016. They are among the species of wildlife that police are identifying for the first time as involved in Michigan traffic accidents.

For the first time, police are collecting data on turkey, elk, moose and bear, said Scott Carlson, a trooper with the State Police Traffic Crash Reporting Unit.

In 2016, the number of traffic accidents involving each animal is followed by the county with the most accidents:

  • Deer — 46,870 (Oakland County — 1,847)
  • Turkeys — 232 (Jackson County — 17)
  • Bear — 61 (Marquette County — 6)
  • Elk — 22 (Cheboygan County — 5)
  • Moose –18 (Marquette County — 5)
  • Other — 876

The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and other users of the state’s traffic crash database showed interest in the type of animals being struck and where, Carlson wrote in an email.

Officers now capture statistics about the five species most often involved in traffic accidents. An “other” selection encompasses other animals such as horses and cows.

The data could lead to new warning signs along highways, state officials said.

Ryan Boyer, a district biologist from the National Wild Turkey Federation, said he isn’t surprised by the number of turkey-involved accidents.

The number of wild turkeys has rapidly increased in the past few decades, he said. The DNR estimates the state’s population at around 200,000 turkeys.

June, July and August is the breeding season for turkeys, he said. “Young turkeys usually are looking for bugs in an opening with a higher numbers of insects It might be one reason behind those crashes.”

Some of the data may be suspect, such as a moose/vehicle collision in Detroit. That’s likely a mistake, said Anne Readett, section chief of the planning and administration section of the Office of Highway Safety Planning.

There aren’t any moose in the Lower Peninsula, said Dean Beyer, a DNR biologist. They live in the Upper Peninsula, away from people.

But there are major roads in the U.P. near where the moose live, he said. And when moose try to cross the road, accidents happen.

Michigan has more elk than moose, said Chad Stewart, the DNR deer, elk and moose specialist. Elk usually live in unpopulated areas of the northern Lower Peninsula.

“It is extremely rare, but occasionally we have a few elk accidents each year,’’ said Amy Trotter, deputy director of Michigan United Conservation Clubs.

They’re usually on I-75 in the northern Lower Peninsula.

The best mechanism to reduce animal-car accidents is hunting, she said.

The actual number of turkey accidents could be higher. Every county i has spring turkey hunting and some counties have a fall season as well.

Boyer said, “There are more people and more turkeys in the southern part of Michigan, and I think hunting season helps maintain and reduce the turkey population.”

The high number of bears–61– struck by Michigan motorists is a result of an increasing bear population in both the Upper and Lower Peninsulas, said DNR wildlife specialist Kevin Swanson.

The reason for most bear-related accidents is that bears are simply trying to cross the roads, he said.

“Bears have large range, especially in this season when bears need to put on some fat before they enter hibernation,” he said. They travel a long distance to food sources.

Deer remain the greatest wildlife headache for motorists by far. Fourteen people were killed in traffic accidents involving deer in 2016. None of the other wildlife caused fatal accidents, Readett said.

Erik Schnelle, the president of the Quality Deer Management Association of Michigan, said, “In some areas, the main causes of death of deer is cars since there are no natural predators.”

The key to reducing deer accidents is to achieve a healthy balance in the deer herd.

One reason for the deer overpopulation is restrictions on hunting, Schnelle said.

Science shows a need to harvest at least 30 percent of female deer in a herd to maintain the population, Schnelle said.

In some areas in Kent County, 40 to 50 percent of the deer population should be harvested to keep it in check, he said. Hunters should hunt antlerless deer to keep the population down and reduce the number of deer-car accidents.

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