Autumn foliage beginning to reach zenith, along with risk of car-deer strikes

By David Pendered

As the fall foliage season begins in earnest in North Georgia and thousands of visitors travel there from metro Atlanta, state officials are urging motorists to be extra careful to avoid collisions with deer.

tallulah gorge

Fall foilage is to start reaching its zenith this weekend in elevations below 4,000 feet. This undated photo shows Tallulah Gorge near its peak in tree colors. Credit: pinterest.com

The latest update on fall foliage observes that the colors have started within just the past few days, according to a report posted Thursday on blueridgemountainlife.com. From the report:

  • “Fall colors are late this year, we’re estimating about a week behind.  Over the past few days, the 4,000 feet and below elevations have been coming in and are really beautiful! Peak time to see colors in the 3,000 – 4,000 foot elevations will be over the next few days.  We were in the town of Maggie Valley yesterday, and it was gorgeous!  Lots of reds, yellows, and oranges.
  • “Due to the hurricane, and varying temperatures, colors in various areas area a bit spotty – In some areas, the leaves may be gone, but there are plenty of others full of color and leaves.”

Just as the autumn colors are beginning to emerge at lower altitudes, research by the University of Georgia indicates the breeding season is about to begin for deer in Northeast Georgia.

The danger this presents is that more drivers may be on the roads at time when deer are migrating to breed. The main danger times are near dawn and dusk – dusk being a time visitors are driving south on winding mountain roads.

habersham county

Habersham County, in Northeast Georgia, is a popular destination for residents of metro Atlanta who seek to see an explosion of autumn foilage. Credit: habershamga.com

For example, the popular Panther Creek Falls Trail, in Habersham County, is at an elevation where the leaves should be in their prime beginning this weekend, according to the leaf report. Given the time it takes to hike the strenuous trail, it’s not unusual for visitors to stay as late into the afternoon before heading home.

Meanwhile, some deer may already be moving, in advance of the peak deer movement season that beings in third week in November for white tail deer, according to the breeding map produced by the University of Georgia, prompting state officials to issue their warning.

“Motorists should be alert and pay close attention to the roadsides as we are nearing the annual peak time of the year for deer-car collisions,” Charlie Killmaster, state deer biologist with the state’s Wildlife Resources Division, said in a statement.

“Keep in mind that deer often travel in groups, so if a deer crosses the road ahead of you there is a good chance that another will follow, Killmaster said. “In many cases, that second deer is the one hit as the driver assumes the danger has passed and fails to slow down.”

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources advises that autumn is a risky time for deer-car collisions. According to the statement:

  • deer beside road

    Deer sometime seem oblivious to dangers presented by vehicles traveling on a road the deer may decide to cross. Georgia officials advise motorists to be wary in areas where deer are active. Credit: birdsoutsidemywindow.org

    “While deer-car collisions can occur at any time of year, the fall breeding season is a peak time for such accidents. During the fall breeding season, deer movement increases and this often brings them in contact with roadways that cross their natural habitats. Road shoulders generally provide beneficial food plants both during extremely dry times of the year and following a long, hard winter. Deer are attracted to these plants in late-winter, early spring and late summer.  Georgia’s new deer rut map is an excellent tool for motorists to determine local peaks in deer movement.  Drivers should be especially wary of deer during these time periods.”

State Farm insurance company is on the bandwagon, as well.

Georgia is a high-risk state for deer-car collisions, according to a report released Oct. 2. Georgia drivers face a 1-in-122 chance of striking a deer. West Virginia is ranked No. 1, with a 1-in-43 chance of hitting a deer. California ranks dead last, with a 1-in-1,117 chance, according to a map produced by State Farm.

The cost is rising to repair vehicular damage incurred during a deer-car strike. State Farm’s latest report shows the average cost per claim was $4,170 in the fiscal year that ended June 30. That’s up $175 per incident compared to the previous fiscal year.

 

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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