Understanding how deer move in relationship to roads is critical, because deer are in vehicle collisions, and collisions cause vehicle damage, as well as human injuries and fatalities. In temperate climates, mule deer Odocoileus hemionus have distinct movement patterns that affect their spatial distribution in relationship to roads. In this paper, we analyzed deer movements during two consecutive winter seasons with vastly different conditions to determine how deer—vehicle collision rates responded. We predicted that deer—vehicle collision rates would be higher when precipitation and snow depth were higher. We used meteorological data from local weather stations to describe temperature, precipitation and snow depth. We monitored deer movements with global positioning system telemetry to document distance of deer to roads, elevation use and road crossing rates. We also documented changes in deer abundance and traffic volumes, which were potentially confounding variables. We found that precipitation decreased 50% and snow depth decreased 48% between winters. In response, deer used habitats that were 16% higher in elevation and that were 213% farther from roads with high traffic volumes. Consequently, crossing rates also decreased as much as 96% on roads with high traffic volumes. Reduced crossing rates were likely responsible for much of the 75% decrease in deer—vehicle collisions that occurred during the second winter. Abundance and traffic volume also can be important factors affecting deer—vehicle collisions rates. However, it is unlikely they were the major drivers of variation in deer—vehicle collisions during our study, because traffic volumes did not change between years and deer abundance only decreased 7%. Our data suggest a mechanism by which variation in winter conditions can contribute to differences in deer—vehicle collision rates between years. These findings have significant management implications for deer—vehicle collision mitigation.
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