It seems as though every driver on Nantucket has a story about hitting a deer. Or a near miss. Nantucket Police Department Lieutenant Angus MacVicar says he hears about his officers responding to a deer vs. motor vehicle collision almost daily.
It’s not surprising, really. Nantucket has one of the densest deer populations in the state, with approximately 50 per square mile, pegging the total number between 4,000 and 6,000 deer.
That’s why we were surprised to read a recent Boston Globe story about deer-involved crashes in Massachusetts that didn’t have Nantucket ranked in the top 15 communities for such incidents during the 2021 calendar year. The data, supplied by AAA, showed Nantucket ranked at No. 16 in the state, with just 27 for the entire year. Something seemed off.
So we submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for Nantucket Police Department records showing the number of deer-involved motor vehicle crashes for the past five years. The numbers, as we expected, were far higher:
- 2018: 41
- 2019: 49
- 2020: 78
- 2021: 90
- 2022: 65 (year to date)
And those are just the ones the Nantucket Police Department has official records for. MacVicar said there are likely even more that never get reported.
The 90 deer-vehicle crashes on Nantucket in 2021 would make Nantucket the No. 1 town of such incidents in Massachusetts by a wide margin. But using the statistics from police departments versus the AAA data from the state would likely raise the number in other towns as well.
We reached out to AAA regarding the discrepancy between the local records and the data supplied by AAA to the Boston Globe for its story. Mark Schieldrop, a public affairs specialist for AAA, said the data his organization used comes from the state Department of Transportation, or MassDOT, crash data portal.
“Sometimes there are discrepancies between how a PD (police department) codes data into crash reports and what they report to the state, and I’m wondering if there are fields not being checked or something along those lines,” Schieldrop said. “From the state’s perspective, all crashes involving deer have to have ‘Collision with animal – deer’ selected as the first harmful event listed in the crash report to be a ‘deer crash.’ When we pull data out of IMPACT for deer crashes, that’s the only field we can select to list only crashes involving deer. And as you mention, the number we get for Nantucket in the crash portal is a lot lower than what you got from the PD. I’m wondering if the deer crashes the PD is pulling up from their own system aren’t classified as deer crashes in the state crash portal for some reason.”
MacVicar, the Nantucket Police Department lieutenant, said it may be that the state numbers reflect only those incidents in which there is a formal motor vehicle crash report. Oftentimes, MacVicar said, drivers involved in an accident with a deer do not want to the responding officers to complete a formal report, but the incident still gets logged in the department’s system.
Regardless, the AAA data showed that deer vs. motor vehicle collisions across Massachusetts increased by 18 percent in the fall of 2021 compared to the previous year. Such crashes are the leading cause of deer mortality in Massachusetts. Even so, the statewide deer population was recently estimated to be at an all-time high.
In response, the state has implemented new measures in southeastern Massachusetts - where the deer population is also high - along with Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard to reduce the deer population to help reduce the number of deer-vehicle crashes, deforestation caused by the animals, and the prevalence of tick-borne diseases.
In those areas, licensed hunters are now permitted to kill an unlimited number of female deer - otherwise known as antlerless permits - along with the two male deer allotted to each hunter. Removing the previous cap for Nantucket, however, likely won’t make much difference on the total number of deer taken on Nantucket during shotgun season, according to Martin Feehan, the deer and moose project leader for the state Division of Fisheries & Wildlife. Nantucket hadn’t sold out of antlerless permits since 1988, Feehan said.
Over the first two days of shotgun deer hunting season on the island, hunters bagged 225 deer. That’s up from the 187 deer taken over the first two days of the 2021 season. But Feehan said that increase is likely the island returning to a “normal” season following a pandemic-related dip in 2020 and 2021.