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Bowhunting or birth control?



When some people (and by some people, I mean me) hear the idea of hunting as an option for dealing with the urban deer problem, they (I) picture local Elmer Fudds traipsing through our neighborhoods wielding rifles, shooting Bambi freely.

The idea of bowhunting, being weighed by Colorado Springs city officials presently, only slightly changes that image.

Retired teacher Deborah Janke, whose property borders Garden of the Gods, isn’t focused on the methods, but the results. She imagines the suffering the deer will experience at the hands of the hunters. Janke, a gardener and no stranger to deer on her property, reached out to the Independent with concern that only one side was being presented in the discussion about culling local deer. Through her research, she’s learned of other attempted methods for controlling the deer, one being birth control.

(Note to any readers considering becoming a columnist: When your editor asks if you’re interested in writing about deer birth control, just say yes. How else could you receive emails with the subject line: Dead deer data?)

Janke, who taught high school English, read that killing deer to reduce their numbers sometimes results in the opposite effect. (The Indy, in Kirsten Akens’ Jan. 31 interview with author Dan Flores, noted a similar phenomenon with coyotes, who increase litter sizes when pressured.)

Colorado Parks and Wildlife Area Wildlife Manager Frank McGee says while that’s sometimes true, there are complex reasons why that isn’t the case here.

McGee, whose work territory starts with Pikes Peak and extends to the Kansas border, says he joined the conversation about urban deer when he came from Grand Junction about 31/2 years ago. In his position, he commonly hears complaints about urban wildlife — primarily deer and bears. He’s worked with various stakeholders, including homeowners, government agencies and animal-welfare organizations.
The first step was determining whether we have a deer population problem. After conducting a deer count on the Westside, the answer was a definitive yes. McGee says the count showed as many as 130 deer per square mile. With so many deer, one of the concerns is deer-car collisions, which is where the dead-deer data comes into play. McGee shared a report that shows the city picked up 307 dead deer around town between Jan. 1 and Nov. 14 last year. (Deer that are hit and end up on private property are not included in this count; they are the responsibility of the property owner.)

While other parts of the country have already wrestled with this kind of deer problem for a long time, it’s a relatively new conundrum here. McGee says the good thing about coming late to the party is we can learn what’s proven effective as a solution elsewhere. Hunting is one of the options being considered. Whether the hunting would be permit-based or the work of professional hunters, or whether it would be a free-for-all (not likely says McGee) or limited to specific lands and times, has not been decided.

“Most people would prefer to find a nonlethal way to deal with the overabundance of deer,” he says. “We don’t have a good one yet.”

He says relocation has a few strikes against it, one being the potential to introduce and spread disease among deer. Another problem with city deer is that they don’t migrate to follow sources of food as seasons change. The city provides all the food they need, especially when angry landscapers simply plant anew to replace damage done. Moving a city deer to the country might be like taking someone raised in New York City and moving them to live in the country to grow and hunt their own food. Some might argue a quick kill by a hunter proves more humane than potentially starving to death.

Unfortunately, it looks like the birth control (which can be approached in a number of ways — from sterilization to annual doses of a sort of vaccine) isn’t the answer. McGee says it has worked in research settings, but those deer are contained and the studies have been done on white tail deer, not our resident mule deer. And he says, the city of Cleveland spent about a half million dollars studying it before giving up — about two decades ago.

Meanwhile, Janke continues to do research, and the city will host an open meting on Friday, March 9 at Care and Share (2605 Preamble Point), though public comment will not be taken at that time.

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