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By Rodger Nichols
For The Sentinel 

Deer primary council topic

 

September 11, 2019

Rodger Nichols

DEER TALK: WDFW Captain Jeff Wickersham speaks to the Goldendale City Council last Tuesday about options to control the deer population in the city.

Urban deer and the predators that follow them into the city were the subject of a special report at Tuesday night's Goldendale City Council meeting. A trio of Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife employees were on hand to offer suggestions for different options to control those populations. The delegation was headed by Captain Jeff Wickersham, who heads the Southwest Washington area including Lewis, Cowlitz, Wahkiakum, Clark, Skamania, and Klickitat Counties. Joining him were conflict specialist Todd Jacobsen and district wildlife biologist Stefanie Bergh. Jacobsen presented a series of slides detailing five possible options.

As a prelude, Jacobsen noted that urban areas serve as refuges for deer from "common mortality sources" including predation, hunting and poor nutrition. That leads to increased contact with humans. In Goldendale, deer have damaged gardens, caused collisions with motorists, aggressively chased people and been found stuck in fences. With deer coming into the community in large numbers, it also contributes to the spread of diseases among the deer and attracts predators.

He said there are obstacles to control, including many residents who are fond of seeing deer in their back yards, some of them actually feeding the deer, despite a city ordinance against it. Also, there are conflicts with different opinions about dealing with predators such as cougar and bear. And he noted that public outreach would be critical and will take time and repeated efforts.

That said, Jacobsen outlined five options used with varying success elsewhere.

Option 1 - increased education

This would do nothing to manage the deer directly, but WDFW would partner with the city in getting the word out about how to live better with wildlife. The pros are that it requires no management intervention and may reduce conflicts with deer and carnivores. The cons include that it may still lead to increased deer numbers in the city with potential or future conflicts, may continue to bring carnivores in the city, and would involve an increased workload for a successful campaign.

Option 2 - limited public hunting.

That could take place on public parcels within city limits and on participating private parcels and would be limited to archery and crossbow use. If the city decides to allow that, participants would still be required to follow state game laws on bag limits, seasons, and tagging. The pros are that there are multiple archery and crossbow hunting seasons in the fall that would give those eager to hunt an opportunity, and has the potential to reduce the deer population in the city; and provides pressure for other deer to move out. Similar programs have been successful in a number of communities around the U.S. The cons are that it doesn't provide year-round pressure on the deer, only during the fall; that some citizens may object and try to interfere; that there may be deer who are only wounded; that the city would have to set up and manage the program; and it may create what he called a "sink" phenomenon. It may dispose of deer that come into the city, but it doesn't necessarily remove all the reasons why they come in the first case, and that might just lead to a regular flow of deer in.

Option 3 - professional deer removal.

This would involve hiring professionals with suppressed firearms hunting the deer in the city. On the pro side, it would mean an immediate reduction in the local deer population. Cons include cost, possible opposition from citizens, no long-term solution, and may create a "sink" phenomenon.

Option 4 - high intensity harassment.

That includes the use of pyrotechnics, rubber buckshot, paintballs, and water from hoses of sprinklers. Pros are that they are non-lethal methods and may discourage deer from retuning. Cons include that it would take a coordinated citizens' effort to be successful, it's a lot of time and effort and there is a potential for "deer pinball" with just pushing deer to the next property.

Option 5 - relocation/contraceptives.

This would involve capturing and moving deer out of city limits and/or administering contraceptives. Pros are that these are non-lethal methods with a high degree of public approval. Cons include that this is not part of WDFW's management approach and costs are huge ($2,000 per animal). Also, relocation doesn't solve the issue because deer are highly mobile and will likely return, and contraception is difficult to administer and may prevent additional growth but does nothing to reduce present numbers.

Jacobsen said WDFW is happy to partner with the city and that the best solution may involve a combination of these options.

In response, the council voted to set up a wildlife committee to study the recommendations and consider how to best implement a combination of methods best suited to their situation.

Future meetings include a presentation on the 23rd of a draft final report on broadband in the city at 7 p.m. at city hall and a budget committee meeting on Sept. 30 also at 7 p.m. at city hall.

 

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