How many deer are too many? 

Straining to peer out the windows of a pickup truck, into a combination of dawn light and a driving snowstorm early on a recent morning, Colorado Parks and Wildlife Wildlife Biologist  Julie Stiver and CPW volunteer Bill Bane were on the lookout for deer. Concentrating on a neighborhood on the west side Colorado Springs, Stiver was leading other teams on a survey of the deer population in Colorado Springs. 
click to enlarge CPW Volunteer Bill Bane on the lookout for deer in Colorado Springs - BOB FALCONE
  • Bob Falcone
  • CPW Volunteer Bill Bane on the lookout for deer in Colorado Springs

Spurred by concerns voiced to city council by Springs' citizens who report seeing more deer in their neighborhoods, or having more deer-involved car crashes in recent years, Stiver is trying to determine the make up of the deer population within the city.

As I rode with Stiver and Bane in our assigned area, they took note of where there were groups of deer, how many were in the group and a breakdown of their gender and approximate age. Other teams were doing the same thing in areas assigned to them. Stiver was quick to point out that what the teams weren't actually counting the deer — an actual deer count would cost around $100,000 and would require many more people and take several years to accomplish. Instead, this survey is intended to determine the birth rate and ratio of fawns to does, and bucks to does of the deer population in Colorado Springs over the course of several years. It is a sampling of the animal groups from which other data can be extrapolated. To put it into perspective, Stiver equated the survey as being similar to a political poll taken ahead of an election, and an actual count as being similar to the election itself.

click to enlarge CPW Wildlife Biologist Julie Stiver  (foreground) and volunteer Bill Bane surveying deer in Colorado Springs - BOB FALCONE
  • Bob Falcone
  • CPW Wildlife Biologist Julie Stiver (foreground) and volunteer Bill Bane surveying deer in Colorado Springs
To address concerns about the over abundance of deer in the city limits, city council has considered the idea of opening parts of the city to limited bow hunting. Stiver says that while hunting sounds like an easy way to address the issue, it's a complicated process to get there. Any request by council to open up hunting in the city limits — and effectively expanding the area where the state allows hunting — would require the approval of the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission. According to Stiver, the city would have to develop a deer management plan before the commission makes a decision, but making a plan will take some time — probably years.

There are many factors involved in the decision making process, according to Stiver. For example, are there too many bucks or does, or fawns? How many of each will need to be killed? How will prospective hunters be selected, with an emphasis on how to do it safely in a heavily populated areas?

It's possible that by the time the data is collected and the commission makes a decision, environmental factors such as getting enough rain and snow that deer don't have to come into the city for food, will make killing them unnecessary, as the urban deer population may decrease to more tolerable levels. Additionally, Stiver doesn't think opening parts of the city to limited hunting would do enough to make a difference. To that end, the city is considering "culling," or using professional sharpshooting hunters to thin the herd, a method Stiver thinks would be more effective.

There's a cost involved in culling, which Stiver estimates would cost the city about $700 per deer.  When I asked about trying to relocate some of the deer population out of the area, she estimated that the cost of herding and relocating would be on the order of $700-1,000 per animal.

Before any decision to reduce the number of deer in the city, "There has to be a much broader conversation with the citizens to determine their level of tolerance with human-deer interaction" Stiver says.

For foreseeable future, the deer population in Colorado Springs will remain a source of concern for homeowners and motorists alike.

Happy Trails!

Bob Falcone is a retired firefighter, photographer, hiker, business owner and author of Hiking Bob's Tips, Tricks and Trails, available via his website. He has lived in Colorado Springs for more than 26 years. Follow him on Twitter (@hikingbob), Facebook (Hiking Bob), Instagram (@HikingBob_CO) or visit his website (Hikingbob.com). E-mail questions, comments, suggestions, etc to Bob: info@hikingbob.com.

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