Thursday, January 10, 2008

MONTANA OPINION: Is Managing Urban Deer Worth the Cost?

Pardon the cliché, but if you want to know why something is happening, follow the money. So, that’s what I did this week, and at the end of my search, I found what must be the most expensive deer in the world.

You could have some of these high-priced deer in your town, too. What’s happening in Helena, Montana, could be coming to a city near you.

Most cities have urban deer populations. In Helena, we host as many as 700 deer, both whitetails and muleys. These are not country deer coming into the city for a geranium treat now and then. These are third or fourth generation city deer born, raised and reproducing within the city limits, deer that have probably never heard a rifle shot or seen a hunter. They’ve become habituated to humankind for a simple reason. Helena is great deer habitat. Cities unintentionally provide the two primary characteristics of quality wildlife habitat, food and security.

Some people in Helena consider deer an amenity or at worst, a nuisance, but others consider them a pestilence--no better than oversized, hoofed rats. And sure enough, once or twice each fall, an aggressive, love-starved buck threatens somebody, and the incident gets the front page play it doesn’t deserve. Adding to the furor caused by these high profile incidents, our deer neighbors always make landscaping and gardening a challenge, which most of us solve by fencing or netting and planting deer-resistant species.

(All this has, incidentally, has created a substantive “deer economy” in Helena for fence companies and nurseries--and auto body shops, of course.)

To me, urban deer are just part of the we-don’t-live-in-a-perfect-world deal, no different than pigeons and squirrels and dog poop or your lawn amd neighbors who don’t shovel their walks. We city folks created this great deer habitat, so how can we be surprised or upset when deer use it? As any hunter knows, game animals naturally gravitate to habitat closed to hunting--and stay there if they find enough to eat.

But I might be in the minority in Helena. A survey conducted by the University of Montana Business School for the Urban Wildlife Task Force, (UWTF) created by the Helena City Commission to advise them on what to do about the “deer problem” found that 78 percent of city residents surveyed wanted the deer herd “reduced,” but only 54 percent wanted this reduction if we had to use “lethal means.”

This majority appears to be carrying the day in Helena, and the city commission has decided we need to kill deer because they pose a public safety hazard.

So, here’s the plan. Or perhaps I should say, here’s what probably will happen--unless the city commission steps in and stops it. Sometime next winter, Helena police officers will start baiting deer into open space areas and then in the dark of night using night-vision scoped rifles, they’ll shoot 50 deer.

Plan A was to kill 350, but the Fish and Game Commission, the board that sets policy for the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP), rejected this proposal. At a later meeting, though, the commission agreed to allow the city to kill 50, as long as no hunting license dollars were spent on the project. (That qualifier is sort of comical, as you’ll soon read, because lots of “hunters dollars” have already poured into Helena’s deer management plan, and under any government scenario, more will be spent.)

I’m hardly against killing deer, having done it as much as possible in my life. But the Helena plan brings out my fiscally conservative side. When I followed the money, here’s what I found. (As a disclaimer, agencies can’t accurately track all the publicly financed staff time that goes into administering projects, so the following figures certainly undershoot the true expense of killing deer in Helena.)

To get the ball rolling, the City of Helena created the UWTF and tapped its general fund for $12,000 to finance its work. FWP joined in with a $7,000 grant, which covered most of the cost of the survey.

In addition, according to FWP information officer Tom Palmer, the agency has already devoted $23,000 in staff time to work with the UWTF. The city didn’t keep track of the staff time, but parks and recreation director Randy Lilje told NewWest.Net that “a fairly substantial amount” of staff time has gone into the deer plan. Since I’m fiscally conservative guy who supports equality, I’ll be kind and assume the city only did as much as the state, even though the expenditure of city staff time was likely much higher.

If you’re adding this up, you know we’ve already spent $65,000, all public funds, on targeting these 50 deer or $1,300 per deer. And many more thousands will be spent. The city must hold public hearings and plans to lobby the legislature to pay for its deer reduction plan. I doubt the police department has special urban deer-killing equipment, so we have to buy it. And by the way, I’m a bit stressed about my police force out baiting and killing deer when they should be catching child predators, closing down meth labs, or busting those punks who prowl around Helena slashing tires and shooting out car windows with air pistols.

The venison must be handled properly, so somebody has to field dress the deer and take the meat over to Montana Food Share. And clean up the gut piles, of course, because I suspect people might object to finding them in our city parks.

I’ve probably missed a few expenses, but I feel safe saying the true cost isn’t any less than $2,000 per deer this year. It might be less in future years, and I suppose it’s a little unfair to put the entire amount on those 50 soon-to-be-dead deer instead of amortizing it over hundreds of more deer we plan to kill in the future. Killing deer might cost less than $2,000 per animal going forward, but still cost us deerly.

If somebody wants to challenge my numbers, I’ll make the adjustment and move on because the exact cost is not the point.

The point is: Do we want to spend so much public money to kill urban deer? And then repeat it every year to keep up with Mother Nature? Keeping in mind that close to half of Helenans don’t want deer killed, would this public money be better spent on maintaining parks, buying a fire truck, reducing energy use, making our town more pedestrian or bicycle friendly, promoting recycling, repaving streets, or paying for a hundred other underfunded city services? Ditto for FWP money. Would it be better spent on hunting access programs or wildlife research?

In conclusion, I’d like to see the UWTF do another survey and ask this question: Are you in favor of reducing Helena’s deer population at a cost of $2,000 per deer the first year and an undetermined expenditure of public funds in future years? I suspect that when the results came in, I might be in the majority.


Wednesday, January 09, 2008

OREGON NEWS: Winter Feeding Kills Deer

KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. (AP) — Humans who feel sorry for the deer in the winter can do more harm by feeding them, say some wildlife experts.

Six deer found dead in the Klamath Falls area recently probably died because they were fed an improper diet by humans, officials say.

"Looking at some stomach contents, I'm seeing grain and alfalfa and things they're not supposed to be eating this time of year," said Liz Diver, who operates the nonprofit Badger Run Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. "I've also run into people in the feed store buying grain for the deer, which can be fatal."

She said people believe they're helping deer by feeding them during the winter, she said.

"When you give them apples, carrots, alfalfa and grain, their gut cannot handle it," Diver said. "They get something very similar to colic."

Tom Collom, district wildlife biologist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, agreed.

He said deer have complex digestive tracts that depend on proper levels of vitamins, minerals and bacteria to digest food.

"If they are subjected to a quick change in diet it takes their system quite a while to change that bacteria makeup to be able to digest that food," Collom said. "It sets the stage where animals can starve to death on a full stomach."

A rapid change in diet actually inhibits the deer's ability to use the food they take in, he said.

Collom said feeding wildlife other than birds is against the law in the city of Klamath Falls under an ordinance approved in the 1990s.

Diver said she's trying to spread the word that feeding deer might end up killing them.

"Sometimes it's accidental," Diver said. "The deer are getting into people's hay barns where they've got it stashed for their horses.

"But you can also walk into feed stores and find people buying sacks of grain and things with the intent of feeding the deer because they feel sorry for them."


WEST VIRGINIA NEWS: 2007 Deer Kill Up 6% Over 2006

Deer kills increased 6 percent in West Virginia last year as hunters killed about 7,900 more animals than the previous year.

The Division of Natural Resources says the total kill for the state’s various seasons was 145,577 animals in 2007. Hunters killed 137,621 deer in 2006.

The agency says anterless kills increased 11 percent last year as hunters took advantage of increased bag limits and the opportunity to hunt in more counties. Overall, 43,684 antlerless deer were killed.

DNR Director Frank Jezioro (JEZ’-uh-roh) says the agency will continue to watch the number of antlerless deer in West Virginia to ensure a healthy statewide population.

West Virginia’s various deer seasons started in October and ended Dec. 31.


Tuesday, January 08, 2008

IOWA NEWS: Deer Population Up, Deer Harvest Down

ORAN --- Sometimes you just can't beat Mother Nature.

Ice storms, cold and snow kept many hunters inside instead of stalking deer in December. Initial state estimates indicated the deer harvest was down about 34,000 after the first two shotgun seasons --- when the vast majority of deer are killed --- compared to last year at the same time.

Last year hunters killed a little more than 150,000 does and bucks. State officials hoped to match or exceed that number this year to keep the state's burgeoning deer herd in check.

Alarmed by the shortfall, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources enticed people back into the woods by extending certain hunting seasons and creating new ones so hunters could fill unused tags. The additional hunting time also was intended to help lockers that rely on processing the animals for income.

As numbers were updated and more kills reported, the harvest is still down but not as drastically as once thought. Willy Suchy, DNR wildlife research supervisor, estimates the harvest will be several thousand less than last year once all the deer hunting seasons end Jan. 27.

"The harvest is not where we wanted, but it's in the margin (of acceptability)," Suchy said.

Suchy said studies show Iowans believe a deer herd of about 300,000 is manageable. It's not that deer wouldn't have enough to eat or be more susceptible to disease if the herd was larger, but people believe that size is tolerable from the standpoint of property damage, he said.

The DNR estimates the deer population was about 370,000 after the last hunting season. Suchy said expanded hunting was needed to keep working toward the herd-size goal.

"Hunters are doing a pretty good job managing the deer population, passing on smaller bucks and taking does," Suchy said.

For some lockers that count on deer processing for a significant portion of their yearly revenue, the reduced harvest isn't good news. While some processors say numbers are as good or better than last year, that's not the case for many others.

Normally the locker in Oran is swamped this time of year with more than 900 deer, bringing in more than $120,000. Employees work overtime, just so customers can get their meat back in a few months.

This year, manager Todd Briddle said the deer count is down about 300 to 350 head. The pace is slower, revenue is lower, and customers are getting meat back in a matter of weeks.

"I'm not the only one hurting. I think a lot of lockers didn't get what they want," Briddle said.

From what Briddle can gather talking with customers and hunting himself, the weather played a significant factor. October hunting wasn't as successful, because rain pushed back harvest a little, and deer were feasting on corn and not in the timber. Then, harsh winter conditions hit.

"We got the weather, and it just killed us," Briddle said. "The state did it (extended hunting seasons) for a reason."

Tony Harford, owner of the locker in Wadena, said last year he processed about 500 deer. As of the last of December, the count was a little more than 400.

With three weeks left before deer hunting is done, Harford is optimistic more will come in, but there are no guarantees.

"I definitely count on deer. If you're down 100 deer, that's $10,000 down," he said.

On the bright side, Harford said labor expenses will go down if deer numbers remain behind last year, though that's not how he would like to save money.

At the opposite side of the spectrum, the locker in Edgewood is as busy as ever. As of the last of December, co-owner Terry Kearn said he had accepted about 200 more deer than last year, when the business processed 3,400.

Kearn said deer accounts for 30 percent of his revenue.

"Absolutely, no doubt, for most lockers deer is a pretty big part of their business," Kearn said. "I do think the kill is down, but I hope we're up (due to) what we do."



Hunters harvested 48 deer during the first weekend of a special hunt in northwestern Minnesota that aims to reduce deer density and stop the potential spread of bovine tuberculosis (TB), according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

The hunt began Dec. 29 and continues through Jan. 13 in Permit Area 101, which is considered the bovine TB zone in far northwestern Minnesota. It is open to hunters who have a valid, unused permit to harvest deer regardless of the zone in which a hunter was licensed.

To date, four deer harvested in the TB zone during the regular firearms season in November have tested presumptive positive for bovine TB. Three tested positive prior to the DNR's Dec. 5 announcement of the late-season hunt. Since then, lab results have indicated that an additional deer taken during the regular firearms season has tested positive.

"Finding one additional deer with the disease is a concern," said Michael DonCarlos, DNR wildlife research and policy manager. "But the prevalence of the disease remains low and is confined to a small geographic region." All four of the infected deer from the fall 2007 hunt have been found within a five-mile radius of Skime.

After the late season hunt concludes, the DNR will conduct an aerial survey of the area to determine deer distribution and abundance. Once that information is collected, the DNR will finalize plans on the need for additional deer removal by sharpshooters. DNR also will continue to work with the agricultural community to expand and improve programs and policies to help prevent contact between cattle and deer.

This fall's testing of deer harvested in Permit Area 101 was part of the DNR's ongoing TB surveillance program, which began in 2005 when the disease was first discovered in cattle. Since then, DonCarlos said, bovine TB has been detected in eight cattle herds and 17 wild deer in Roseau and Beltrami counties. Officials from the DNR, Minnesota Board of Animal Health and U.S. Department of Agriculture have been aggressively working to manage the disease in deer and livestock so Minnesota can regain its bovine TB-free accreditation.

"This may be a narrow window of opportunity to stop this disease in its tracks," DonCarlos said. "As long as bovine TB continues to be found in deer, DNR will continue to work with local hunters, landowners, other wildlife and agriculture organizations and agencies to eliminate bovine TB in Minnesota."

Details of the special late-season hunt being conducted in deer Permit Area 101 only are:
- season dates are Saturday, Dec. 29, to Sunday, Jan. 13, 2008
- deer of either sex may be taken
- hunters can use any 2007 license or permit from any zone
- a hunter must have a license and use the legal weapon for that license; for example, a hunter cannot use a rifle if he or she does not
have a valid 2007 firearms license
- new or replacement licenses can be obtained at any Electronic Licensing System agent, and hunters can buy additional disease
management permits for $2.50
- deer also can be tagged with any remaining unused tags from the 2007 season; for example, deer can be tagged with an unfilled
firearms license, disease management permits, bonus permits or all-season tags.

All harvested deer must be registered at Olson Skime store in Skime; Riverfront Station in Wannaska; Thief Lake Wildlife Management Area headquarters during regular business hours; or Red Lake Wildlife Management Area headquarters during regular business hours.

DNR employees will staff the Skime and Wannaska registration stations during each weekend (Saturday - Monday) of the special season to examine harvested deer for clinical signs of bovine TB. If a deer is taken during the week that exhibits signs of bovine TB, such as lesions on the lungs, hunters should contact the Thief Lake Wildlife Management Area at (218) 222-3747 or the Red Lake Wildlife Management Area at (218) 783-6861.

Temporary deer population reductions may create short-term hardships for deer hunters in this particular area of northwestern Minnesota, Cornicelli said. But reducing the long-term risk of bovine TB becoming established and spreading in the deer population is extremely important.

"In the short term that means deer densities in the bovine TB area will need to be kept low," Cornicelli said. "However, Minnesota's deer populations are resilient, and while we recognize that dramatic reductions in populations won't be popular with everyone, history tells us deer rebound very quickly."

Following two severe winters in the mid-1990s, Minnesota's wild deer population was very low, he said. But fewer than 10 years later, deer populations had expanded to record levels.


MISSOURI NEWS: Hunters Can't Keep Up With Deer Population

I failed … again, as my wife would say.

I predicted the fall firearms deer season would set a new harvest record. The sun, moon and stars all seemed to line up as I thought about the upcoming deer season and penned my November column.

Lonnie Hansen, Missouri Department of Conservation’s deer expert also thought the season would produce a new record kill.

It wasn’t meant to happen. Missouri deer hunters killed 214,404 during the November firearms season, and for all seasons combined, we killed 260,162 deer, making 2007 the third-largest deer harvest, but not a new record.

Weather played a part, I’m sure. It was unusually warm the first weekend. I quit hunting early to process two antlerless deer I’d killed, and I’m sure many other hunters did, also.

There is another reality dawning on Missouri’s managers. The deer herd continues to grow despite increasing deer harvest, new seasons and increasing liberal harvest regulations. Heck, harvest is almost unlimited. You can kill as many antlerless deer as you have tags and can purchase more tags as the season progresses.

And each year we see different harvest regulations, seasons and expectations as managers continue to fine-tune the harvest and season.

Next year will be no different. MDC will propose new deer harvest regulations and different seasons, to increase, they hope, antlerless deer harvest. The experimental four-point regulation for 29 counties may be modified. It didn’t increase antlerless deer harvest, as managers hoped. Managers are now considering an antlerless season in October, rather than December, and changes in the four-point regulation.

The Missouri Department of Conservation’s Lonnie Hansen estimates Missouri’s current deer herd ranges between 1 million and 1.5 million deer. That’s a lot, and the population is still growing.

You have some control on how to manage that population. Beginning this month, MDC is holding a series of public meetings across the state to listen to your concerns and to discuss proposals for deer regulation changes. Once they hold the public meetings, the managers will propose regulation changes to the Conservation Commission for next year and the following year.

MDC managers are between a rock and a hard place. They must balance hunter expectations, maintain a healthy deer herd and consider social ramifications of an expanding deer herd. Crop depredation and deer automobile contacts continue to increase.

Let me stick my oar in the water on this topic.

In my opinion, Missouri’s deer herd is following the classic sigmoid population curve. The sigmoid curve is "S" shaped with slow growth on the left side, very rapid growth in the middle, followed by population maintenance as the population reaches carrying capacity for the habitat.

Missouri’ deer population is somewhere between full carrying capacity and the rapidly expanding segment, where the herd continues to increase. Current management slows the deer herd’s expansion. However, it isn’t able to stop the expansion.

There is another problem, however, nibbling at the edges of Missouri’s management approach.

What’s first prize: one deer? Second prize: two deer? Third prize: three deer? What do you do with all of the meat?

I suspect the amount of Missouri deer hunters is stagnant or decreasing, while deer numbers continue to increase. The only tool to manage the herd in our manager’s pocket is hunter harvest, and I fear we have reached saturation with regards to the number of deer that hunters are willing to harvest. I have an extended family that uses part of the meat I harvest each year. I process the meat myself. I don’t have to pay a processor $60 to $70 for each deer.

Hansen and MDC’s other managers continue to look for ways to increase deer harvest. Yet, the market is saturated. If you can’t kill a deer or two or four in Missouri, you’re not trying. How do you increase the harvest when fewer hunters participate? This is the conundrum MDC managers face.

Please don’t misunderstand. I believe MDC is doing a great job of managing our deer herd and meeting hunter expectations. Yes, I’d like to see more mature bucks with large racks, but for me, deer hunting is a food gathering exercise, all wrapped in a social event.

The nearest meetings to Columbia will be held Feb 4 at Marshall High School or February 7 at St. George Catholic Church in Linn. Both meetings will run from 7 to 9 p.m. If you can’t attend and would like to comment, write the Missouri Department of Conservation, Box 180, Jefferson City, 65102.


Monday, January 07, 2008

MICHIGAN NEWS: Cull in Jackson's Ella Sharp park Underway

Sharpshooters stationed themselves Sunday in Ella Sharp Park for the first day of a deer harvest that was to kill dozens of the animals that regularly roam the Jackson park's golf course and fields.

Eight men or women with Centerfire rifles shot antlerless deer, beginning after 4:30 p.m. and ending about 11 p.m. Sunday as part of an effort to control a deer population so prevalent many residents have deemed it a nuisance.

Late Sunday, there was no count available on the total number of deer killed. Park Superintendent Eric Terrian said he would not know until early today.

The shooting, depending on the weather conditions, could continue at 4:30 p.m. today and every night until the sharpshooters down 80 deer, Terrian said.

They are shooting in the afternoon to allow children to get safely home from school and avoid times of the day when people are more likely to visit the park and its museum.

Tuesday, sharpshooters also will station themselves in the Cascades Golf Course in Summit Township.

Shooting has been permitted by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources until Feb. 29, but Terrian said he is hopeful the harvest, discussed and planned for years, could wrap up as early as the end of the week.

By about 5:20 p.m. Sunday, as a fog made fuzzy the Jackson landscape, "several" deer already had been killed, said Terrian, who was sitting in a meeting room at the Ella Sharp Golf Course.

He said the shooters, who fire in close range of the animals, indicated the fog was not bothersome.

The roads around the golf course and park were closed, blocked with road signs that read "Deer harvest in progress." Police responded twice to calls about cars or people in the closed area.

Residents who live nearby said they did not hear shots nor see the sharpshooters.
"We were surprised," said Jeff Thomasson, who lives on Horton Road near the park and expected he'd notice when hunters took to the area.

He said he supports the harvest. "We need to thin them out for sure."

The deer overpopulate the park, causing car accidents and property damage. Neighbors have complained and many support efforts to reduce their numbers.

"We can't have flowers or flower beds. They just chew them up and eat them," Thomasson said.

Others say killing the deer is cruel.

"I think they are beautiful," said Nancy Crandell, who lives on Park Road across from the golf course. "I feel sorry for the deer. It's not their fault everyone encroached on them."

She said she has safety concerns about the harvest. "We didn't like the idea of guns and bullets. You don't know where they are going to end up."
Terrian said the process is safe.

Police are monitoring the area. Two DNR officers were at the park Sunday to make sure sharpshooters, who have to follow stringent guidelines, were following the rules, he said.

Once killed, at a price of about $110 a deer, the animals were taken out of the park.
The deer are to be locally processed, and the meat is to be donated to the food pantry at Immanuel Lutheran Church, 1505 W. Michigan Ave.

"We'll be glad to get it and put it to good use and distribute it," said Alice Wiltse, pantry coordinator.

She said demand is high. Last year, the pantry served 10,742 families, up 33 percent from 2006.

"There are many people in Jackson that need the food," she said.

Often, the pantry cannot get meat at a decent price, she said, and pantry clients enjoy venison.

With the donated meat, the pantry can use its money to buy more vegetables and fruit, and meet its goal of giving more food in 2008, she said.