UNITY — In the last month, 14 deer have been killed on a half-mile stretch of road on Route 139.
After the most recent accident in front of Lenny Cabral’s home, where a pickup truck killed two deer, Cabral and neighbor Ed Picard decided to do something about it.
The two put up a sign. “DEER CROSSING” is written in big yellow block letters on a piece of plywood attached to wooden pallets in Cabral’s front yard. An orange flag hangs off the sign, which, during the day, is hard to miss.
A perfect storm of unaware motorists, warming temperatures, high speed and a rural area make the stretch of road starting in Unity, about 300 yards from the Unity Plantation boundary, a prime target for vehicle collisions with deer.
During snowy winters — such as this one — herds of deer tend to stay in sheltered areas, finding any sort of scrap food within its home’s general vicinity, according to Kendall Marden, a regional biologist for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Once the snowpack begins to melt, deer expand their search for food, according to Marden.
“The later we get in the winter, the hungrier the deer will be,” he said. “There have been long periods this winter that have caused restrictive conditions for the deer.”
Deer have treated Cabral’s yard, filled with cedar trees and rhododendrons, as their own buffet. Deer tracks dot his yard, and the area beneath the trees is scattered with leftover cedar needles.
Cabral, 67, and his wife, Jane, enjoy watching the deer run through their yard. They’d like to see them stay alive, which is one of the main reasons for the sign.
The other reason for the sign is motorist safety.
Cabral’s seen the aftermath of three accidents involving deer and one near-accident involving a deer and three cars.
“When I saw that near-accident almost happen — I mean, someone can get hurt pretty bad,” he said.
About a week ago, a pickup truck was parked by the road outside Cabral’s house for about an hour after it struck two deer, but it hadn’t killed them. When police arrived, Cabral heard several gunshots before both vehicles drove away.
“The next day I said, â€˜I got to do something,'” Cabral said.
Deer tracks lead across the road in front of the sign in his front yard, visible from his kitchen window.
“Since I put that sign up, traffic has slowed right down,” he said, adding that in just a week, the sign raised the awareness about deer in the area. “I think they’re more aware because of the sign. You can tell the people who’ve hit a deer before, because those are the ones that slow right down.”
There are two peak times of year for deer collisions, Marden said. In fall, when deer change their pattern from feeding to mating, there is a spike in collisions. Deer collisions also rise in the spring because of difficult winters.
“Snow conditions are melting, and it’s expanding the areas where deer can get their food,” he said.
The recent spate of deer collisions on Route 139 has caught the eye of the Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Department, which works with the Maine Department of Transportation to raise awareness in areas that feature high deer traffic.
“That’s one of the areas that we are concerned with,” Marden said. “Deer collisions happen all over the place all the time, so we can’t be everywhere constantly.”
Because of the state’s woodsy habitat and abundance of nature, rural roads potentially could be flooded with deer warning signs.
Department of Transportation safety manager Duane Brunell said the safety of motorists and the wildlife are of most concern.
“We don’t want to put a sign up everywhere,” Brunell said. “But some signs we put up are temporary so you can inform drivers when there is active movement with deer. Signs may only be active for a month or so.”
While the department looks into several factors about whether deer crossing signs are necessary, they encourage the awareness of residents like Picard and Cabral.
“It is a moving target,” Brunell said. “We welcome public feedback to identify places that we don’t know about.”