Friday, August 3, 2018

Urban deer: Officials set tentative timeline for culling

Posted By on Fri, Aug 3, 2018 at 2:26 PM

click to enlarge A mule deer crosses a road on the Air Force Academy. - U.S. AIR FORCE/MIKE KAPLAN
  • U.S. Air Force/Mike Kaplan
  • A mule deer crosses a road on the Air Force Academy.

City Councilors' plans for dealing with Colorado Springs' overpopulation of deer are moving forward, though not quite at the pace they'd originally hoped.

At a meeting Aug. 3, officials from Colorado Parks and Wildlife met with city staff and Councilors Merv Bennett, Don Knight and Andy Pico to review staff research on deer population control.

The consensus: It's too close to the end of the season to attempt to allow urban hunting, but officials hope to get the ball rolling on Council action soon so professional shooters can "bait and cull" a few dozen does by this Jan. 31. (After that, some does will be too far along in their pregnancy to kill without raising social and political concerns, says Frank McGee, area wildlife manager for state Parks and Wildlife.)

The first step in the process is for the city to issue a request for proposal, or RFP, for an outside company to create a management plan. The plan will have to include information about the best places in the city for commercial hunters to bait and cull deer, most likely using rifles. Location is important because although hunters would work at night for safety reasons, many city parks that might be a hotspot for wildlife are also popular with homeless campers.

The city will probably be able to issue an RFP for the management plan in the next couple of weeks, says Deputy Chief of Staff Bret Waters. Money for that study could come from the city's excess revenue this year, says Councilor Don Knight, adding that funding would have the mayor's support and "we [Council] don't have to appropriate the funds before we put out the RFP." For culling to occur this January, State Parks and Wildlife needs that plan by Oct. 1, McGee says.

The next RFP would be for culling companies, who would coordinate that process.

A plan probably wouldn't be able to make its way through City Council until the end of this year — assuming the ordinance changes needed to allow culling had support — meaning that the selected company would have about one month to shoot does. Knight suggested that the goal should be to take out 50 deer in the first month of 2019. Next year, the city could hopefully allocate enough money to cull "100 to 200 for next September," Knight says.

State Parks and Wildlife has said that in order to reduce Colorado Springs' deer population (currently 2,700) by one-half, 200 does would need to be "harvested" every year for the next five years. Alternatively, 95 does could be harvested each year for the next 10 years. Cost estimates calculated in March showed that culling 200 deer would cost the city between $115,000 and $250,000.

Officials say culling deer is necessary because Colorado Springs has reached its "biological carrying capacity" of deer. Many of the animals are infected with chronic wasting disease, which apparently reduces quality of life.

Data from the Colorado Springs Police Department, according to a presentation at the meeting, shows 192 reports of incidents involving "vehicles vs. wild animals" between 2015 and 2017. (That also includes wild animals other than deer.)

The deer are also creating ecological damage by feeding on plants, McGee says.

The statistics don't mean there's not an obvious PR problem with killing hundreds of deer within city limits.

To illustrate: McGee points out that one problem possibly contributing to urban deer overpopulation is people feeding deer on their property. Sometimes, they're even indifferent to the state's $50 fine for each offense.

"We've had people tell us before, 'I'll continue to pay these tickets'" in order to keep feeding deer, McGee says.

Councilor Merv Bennett recalled a time when he and his wife would have "40 to 50" deer a day on his Cedar Heights property near Garden of the Gods, because "we could not get [a neighbor] to stop feeding them."

One solution officials have proposed to placate deer-loving citizens is to donate the deceased animals (that have tested negative for chronic wasting disease) to Care and Share Food Bank for Southern Colorado. Potentially, they could give deer meat to animal sanctuaries such as the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center in Divide, but Knight thinks feeding the meat to humans would make a culling plan "easier to sell" to the public.

Officials mulled having state Parks and Wildlife cull a few deer in a city park, such as Ute Valley Park, sometime in the near future as "proof of concept." Parks staff would keep a low profile for such a test run.

Additionally, councilors plan to look at cracking down on deer feeders, possibly raising fines or creating new regulations.

A town hall on the deer issue will be held Aug. 15 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at City Hall. (A previously scheduled meeting for Aug. 23 has been canceled.)

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