|Is the solution more costly, or more dangerous, than the problem? Finding the consensus on the increasing urban deer population in the towns of Silver Cliff and Westcliffe was the topic of a workshop held last Monday evening at the Custer County High School.
Trustees from the two towns joined the Colorado Parks and Wildlife representatives and Sheriff Shannon Byerly to discuss the issue of the increasing deer population in city limits and what options were available.
District Wildlife Officer Justin Krall started the workshop by laying out the options that citizens had. “First, you can keep the status quo and do nothing, and find ways to live with the growing deer population.” Krall continued. “The option that we recommend is to harvest female deer in the larger tracks of land that surrounds the town, but are still within the city limits.” According to DOW Terrestrial Biologist Alan Vitt, “We have used harvesting in and around other rural towns such as Beulah and La Veta and this has succeeded in keeping the population from growing.”
The other options Krall presented would cost the towns additional funds. “Trapping and relocating is an option, however the urban deer that grew up in town have not lived in the wild before. In addition, it is expensive, between $400 and $800 per animal trapped and relocated.” Even trapping 100 of the urban deer would cost $80,000 and would not guarantee that animals would not move back to town.
Birth control is a popular option in the Eastern United States, but as Vitt noted in the meeting. “The only FDA approved drug is for White Tail deer; we are not sure if it would work on the local Mule Deer population.”
The last and most effective option would be baiting and sniping. According to Vitt, “hunting can keep the population from getting bigger, but the only successful method of lowering or eliminating urban deer is baiting the animals in at night.” This process involves a sharpshooter with infrared scope and a noise suppressed gun to kill the animals when they are attracted by the bait. It is also expensive at $400 an animal and would cost between $60,000 and $100,000.
Krall explained why he had been contacted by the towns. “The growing number of urban deer is causing human-animal conflicts. Vehicles hitting deer within the city limits are increasing.” Sheriff Shannon Byerly stated that, “so far in 2017 we have five reported incidents, but there are many more that go unreported. We know this because our officers are frequently having to euthanize injured deer and removing dead animals from city limits.”
Additional complaints came from the public that included deer eating flowers, trees, and bushes to more serious killing or maiming of pets. According to Westcliffe town trustee Jim Bistodeau, a buck attacked his dog and disemboweled the pet.
However, not all at the workshop felt that the deer were a problem that needed lethal measures to handle. Jerry Patterson of Silver Cliff poised the question, “I came here to hear about the problem of the deer, like viruses, but all I am hearings is that the deer are an inconvenience. When you move to the mountains you expect deer and plan for it. My trees all have wire around them, and I do not put out bird feeders.”
Vitt explained how the deer population grew in the town limits. “Urban areas, like Westcliffe, are utopia for deer. Irrigation of lawns, trees, and bushes provides plenty of food. And there are fewer predators in town as well.” Vitt continued, “Also, we have a theory that the drought in the 2003 was so bad that many deer did start to come to town for food. Once some of the animals were born in the area, they kept coming back to breed to the point that they stayed in the city limits.” Vitt explained that the population would only increase with time.
However, there was some speculation that more people than ever in the towns are feeding the deer. “It’s illegal to feed the deer for a reason,” Vitt said. “First, it causes this population problem in the city and now we are talking about hunting the animals because of the exploding growth. But also, feeding deer corn and other foods they are not evolved to eat kills them.” Byerly stated that his department often has to remove the bodies of animals that have become sick in town on a regular basis.”
While no decision was reached at the workshop, both town board of directors will seriously consider the idea of hunting that the CPW presented. For Sheriff Byerly, he does have concerns about high powered rifles so close to the city and he may advise any hunting activity be limited to weapons such as shotgun slugs, archery, and crossbows that are not capable of traveling long distances. “Safety has to be our main consideration,” Byerly concluded.
Westcliffe Trustee Brian Clince and Silver Cliff Trustee Buck Wenzel will bring the points from the workshop to the boards of trustees to be discussed in the future.