Insurance group notes a sharp decline in the state’s deer herd

State College, Pa. – Pennsylvania sportsmen don’t need an
insurance company to tell them there are fewer deer in the state
than there were six years or so ago, but they may be interested to
know at least one big company has noticed.

In a private passenger auto deer claims frequency report
released in 2008, Erie Insurance Group noted that in Pennsylvania,
the frequency of its policyholders filing claims for collisions
with deer declined 21 percent from 2003 to 2007.

Companywide, the frequency of deer claims being filed over the
same period dropped by 13 percent, according to the report. Only in
Wisconsin – where the presence of chronic wasting disease has
caused the state to manage for many fewer deer – was a more
significant decline in the frequency of deer claims recorded by the
insurance company, 25 percent.

The frequency of deer claims being filed also declined sharply
for the Erie Insurance Group in New York state, by 17 percent, and
in Maryland, by 12 percent.

Other states where Erie writes auto-insurance policies saw the
frequency of deer claims increase: Illinois up by 16 percent; North
Carolina up by 9 percent; and Tennessee up 15 percent. The
frequency of deer claims in Ohio and Indiana was unchanged for the
company during the period.

Although Pennsylvania’s frequency of deer claims fell sharply
from 2003 to 2007, Erie Insurance Group still regards the Keystone
State as one of its “high” areas, meaning that it yields more than
10 deer claims annually per 1,000 insured vehicles. New York, West
Virginia, Virginia and Wisconsin also fall into that category.

Despite a dramatically lower deer population, several
Pennsylvania counties still show an extremely high frequency of
deer claims annually, according to the Erie Group. Potter County
yields 40 to 50 per year; Sullivan County has more than 50.

In 2007, Erie Insurance Group insured 1.2 million cars for
comprehensive coverage in Pennsylvania, making it the third largest
provider of private passenger auto insurance in the state, behind
State Farm and Allstate.

The company recorded approximately 14,000 deer claims in
Pennsylvania in 2007, paying out almost $32 million in losses for
those claims, according to Darrin Birtciel, a rate analyst with the
Erie-based company.

In most car or truck collisions with deer, he noted, people are
not injured and the vehicle damage ranges from light to
moderate.

“We have seen a sharp decline over the past several years in the
frequency of claims relative to the number of cars we insure in
Pennsylvania,” Birtciel said. “The number has been coming down and
obviously the decline in the deer population is one big reason, but
also it can be attributed to better safety awareness and perhaps
people driving less because of the price of gas and a poor
economy.”

Birtciel, who grew up in Titusville, is aware of the controversy
surrounding deer management in Pennsylvania and has heard the
rumors about car insurance companies somehow colluding with the
Game Commission to decrease deer numbers.

“Those rumors are unfounded,” he said, explaining that the
insurance companies simply calculate the number of deer-auto
collision claims and the projected payout, and then calculate rates
to make an acceptable profit.

“It seems to me that people want to blame someone for lower deer
numbers in Pennsylvania,” Birtciel said. “I am a hunter, and I know
the deer population has declined. Hunters are frustrated and they
want to blame the Game Commission and somehow tie the insurance
companies into the issue.

“Obviously we want to reduce the number of accidents involving
deer, Birtciel added, “but we have never had any contacts with the
Game Commission about deer.”

According to Birtciel, Erie Insurance Group has been looking at
the number of deer accident claims on a year-to-year basis for the
last 10 years or so.

“Anything we can do to help keep people safer helps the
consuming public,” he said. “We are very interested in what months
of the year and what times of the day most accidents happen, and we
try to get that information out to warn our policyholders.”

You might expect Birtciel to be glad there are fewer deer in the
state as an insurance professional and sad about fewer deer as a
hunter, but he pointed out his feelings are not that simple.

“I wouldn’t say I am happy about fewer deer, but we are happy
that our policyholders are having fewer collisions with deer,” he
said. “The insurance companies don’t want to see all the deer gone
– they are important to the state’s economy”

He is puzzled about why some sportsmen think the Game Commission
is cooperating with insurance companies to lower deer numbers, or
even why the agency wants to eliminate deer.

“It’s silly – I don’t know why people think that,” he said. “If
the Game Commission was in cahoots with the insurance companies to
get rid of all the deer, they would be working to put themselves
out of business.

“It’s not like the commission calls a board meeting and all the
insurance company executives show up to discuss how to reduce deer
numbers. That just doesn’t happen, and I don’t think it ever
has.”

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