Friday, January 16, 2009

MONTANA NEWS: Helena Deer Cull Expanded

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks commissioners on Thursday agreed to allow Helena police to kill an additional 150 mule deer in the Capital City this winter.

Police Chief Troy McGee said the work will get under way this week or next in central Helena and on the city’s upper and lower west sides. The project will run through March 31.

Two residents offered emotional pleas, asking FWP commissioners to deny the city’s request, but the commission voted unanimously in favor of the project.

Commissioners, however, pointedly noted that city officials should work to reduce impacts on deer habitat from spreading residential development.

“This (problem) just doesn’t happen, doesn’t fall out of the sky,” Chairman Steve Doherty said.

They also reiterated their position that the department’s user-fee funding sources shouldn’t pay to kill deer in areas closed to hunters, and said they were uncomfortable with the department lending the city a truck to transport carcasses.
City Manager Tim Burton couldn’t be reached for comment, but in the past has said the state’s rebounding wildlife population and years of drought have brought more deer into the city. Officials also are working to get legislators to fund new FWP positions to examine urban wildlife and residential development. The city and department also plan to ask lawmakers to set up a state-funded grant program cities can use to help pay for wildlife-control programs.

Helena residents Gretchen Grayum and Alex Dawson asked FWP commissioners to spare the deer.

“You just do it, you kill them,” Grayum said while crying and chastising commissioners for not listening to 80 people who opposed the project in a recent environmental study. Another 106 people wrote supportive comments, but Helenans’ opinion of their hooved neighbors’ fate has been split for several years.

Dawson presented a written plan for transporting the deer out of town and said he would help with the work. As a policy, FWP generally doesn’t allow wildlife to be transported, a measure officials say is a stopgap against the potential spread of disease.

Commissioners seemed ready to wash their hands of the debate. The issue is one for city officials and residents to discuss.

“However they want to do it … we should no longer be involved in it,” Commissioner Willie Doll said. “We should be done with it.”

“It’s not really our job to determine if the hunt is appropriate,” Commissioner Shane Colton agreed. “Our job is to manage the (deer) and determine if the number is reasonable.”

An FWP official noted state law requires commissioners to approve urban wildlife management programs developed by local governments.

Officials eventually plan to draft a program-wide environmental assessment, setting a framework for future deer-control projects in Helena. If that’s approved, in the future city officials would only need to request approval of an annual deer quota.

McGee has ordered six new traps, bringing the city’s total to a dozen. A pair of police officers will use bait to lure the deer into the net-lined, collapsible box traps before killing the animals with a captive bolt gun.

Meat will once again be given to Helena Food Share for distribution to needy families.

Police killed 50 deer in upper east side neighborhoods this fall, in the city’s first lethal deer-control project. They released 35 fawns at the time, but will include young deer in this project.

Police have received a number of requests from private landowners who want deer taken from their property. The city also will be able to set traps at Bill Roberts Golf Course and at Nature Park.

Source: Helena Independent Record

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