Tuesday, July 21, 2009

PENNSYLVANIA NEWS: Mansfield Council Grapples with Deer

As if it didn't have enough to worry about, borough council can add marauding, shrubbery-eating deer to its list of problems.

Council recently heard from resident Robert Smith of South Academy Street who said deer have eaten most of his outdoor shrubbery. To keep them out of his garden, an electric fence is the only thing that does the job.

Borough manager Ed Grala said Smith is not alone in his problems with the prevalent animals.

"It is a difficult problem, because it's where we live," he said, referring to the rural nature of the area around the borough.

U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service biologist Jason Wood told borough council that before anything can be done, "they really need to quantify the problem first."

Wood said once that happens, a "management plan" can be developed.

Wood said a survey could be taken by the borough, or the agency could do a high-tech survey to observe the offending behavior at night, when it happens most.

"For us to come in to do a population survey with infrared camera surveys at night to document it could cost as much as $6,000, but if we got the job done for $2,000, that's what they would be billed for," Wood said.

The agency then would use that information to develop a whitetail deer management plan.

"In order for a municipality to proceed with special permits for a controlled hunt or other methods, they have to have a management plan in place. That is the key piece. It is really hard to tell until the counts are done and we assess the problem for what it is. It could be one or two people suffering the damage from a few deer," he added.

Wood said some people put out food for deer and that may be exacerbating the problem.

Grala agreed, adding that some people like to watch deer feeding in their yards.

"Deer are going to come where they can get food. The other thing is, and we didn't even ask the question, if we did eliminate this herd, how long would it take before we have the problem again," he asked.

The problem does appear to be seasonal, peaking in mid- to late summer when maturing vegetable gardens attract deer that seem to have no fear of humans, Grala added.

Grala said one suggestion, which council intends to follow up on, is to see if Mansfield University would like to take a survey on as a class project.

As far as keeping people from deliberately feeding deer, Grala said an ordinance prohibiting that could be passed, but "how would you enforce it?"

Though Grala said he didn't think more urban areas experienced the same problems, Wood disagreed.

"It is a pretty common problem throughout the state, but more of a northeast, southeast situation. It can be urban. It's all relative to the deer population," he said.

"Roughly 99 percent of the calls we get are more urbanized where hunting is not allowed, like big subdivisions, and the deer population hasn't been controlled," Wood added.

Source: Williamsport-Sun Gazette

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