You’re less likely to hit a deer on the road in Nebraska and Iowa these days.
While that’s good news for drivers, the decline reflects an increase in deaths among white-tailed deer, especially in Nebraska, from a virus that causes epizootic hemorrhagic disease, or EHD. The Nebraska white-tailed deer population is down about one-third from its 2011 level.
State Farm Mutual Insurance said insurance figures for claims for hitting deer and for the number of drivers shows a 1 in 148 chance of hitting a deer in 2013, down from 1 in 131 in 2012, a 13 percent decline. That ranks Nebraska 23rd in the nation, down from 19th in 2012.
For Iowa, the chance is 1 in 77, fourth most likely in the nation, down from 1 in 73 the previous year, when Iowa ranked third.
State Farm said the U.S. average cost of claims from deer collisions was $3,888, up from $3,414 a year earlier. October, November and December, when mating and hunting seasons are open, account for nearly 50 percent of claims.
The virus causing the infection is spread by the biting midge, a tiny mite sometimes called “no-see-ums.” Deer with acute infections can die within a week.
The most likely state to have a motor vehicle-deer accident is West Virginia, for the eighth year in a row, with a 1 in 39 chance. That’s 4.9 percent more likely than a year earlier. The least likely is Hawaii, with 1 chance in 10,281.
The disease was reported in 20 states in 2012, said Kit Hams, big game program manager for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. It can infect a range of species, but white-tailed deer are particularly susceptible. The midges lay eggs on mud flats when water recedes, and drought areas in 2012 provided ideal conditions.
Hunters harvested about 24,000 white-tailed bucks in 2013, down from 38,000 in 2011, with the same number of permits issued both years.