“There is no quick fix. There is no cheap fix. The problem will not go away. The longer you wait, the more expensive it will be.”
Derrick Wolter, a biologist with the Texas Parks & Wildlife, told a room full of Saladoans this about addressing the problems associated with a growing population of white tail deer in the Village more than a year ago.
Since then, every step taken by the Village to address the population of white tail deer has been met with opposition.
To say the least.
Earlier this year, the board adopted an ordinance prohibiting the intentional feeding of deer. This measure stopped short of a 2015 ordinance that would have included issuing Land Management Permits for the hunting of deer within the Village of Salado.
Backlash against the Wildlife Management Permits was so much that it was dropped. However, earlier this year, the Village was issued 300 permits for the hunting of deer. The permits allow licensed hunters to take additional deer as long as they meet specific guidelines under the program and guidance of the Texas Parks and Wildlife department. The Village conducted a survey of the deer population resulting in the 300 permits. Yet, the Village opted not to issue those permits to hunters.
However, the Deer committee did support the hunting of deer by bowhunters as long as the hunters followed state laws pertaining to hunting on private property only, not crossing public roads or entering on to private property or shooting across private property without the explicit consent of the property owner.
This announcement at Village aldermen meetings resulted in the recent backlash that includes dozens of No Kill Zone signs around the Village, various rants on social media and the recent addition to the Main Street landscape of two large signs directed toward the Board of Aldermen.
After the backlash, aldermen discussed adding arrows to the list of weapons banned within the Village limits.
The board discussed the amendments to its weapons ordinance on Nov. 17.
But the board could not agree on the verbiage of the ordinance. Aldermen bogged down in discussion of disposing of varmints and nuisance animals such as skunk versus dangerous animals such as venomous snakes.
“I don’t care if it is venomous or not,” Alderman Fred Brown, “if I see a snake, I am going to shoot it. I’m not about to walk up to it and ask if it is venomous.”
The board directed staff to clean up the wording of the ordinance to make the prohibition clear and bring it back at a later meeting. The next meeting will be Dec. 8.
Since the Village passed the ordinance prohibiting the intentional feeding of deer, no citations have been issued to violators. According to Police Chief Jack Hensley, when the Village has had a complaint, officers have gone to the property owner to inform them that the prohibition is in place. Chief Hensley said the Village has responded to a small number of complaints.
Hensley also said that the Village has responded to very few complaints of “illegal hunting.” Social media sites including Facebook and Nextdoor have had many reports of illegal hunting, but none have been substantiated by local police.
Hensley said that “We have had some second hand reports of suspicious vehicles in the Village. They were reportedly ‘chasing deer.’” One was a white Cadillac and the other was a brown pickup truck with reportedly “hunters in the back of it” Hensley said. The complaints were made a day after the incident and could not be verified.
This week, a large buck with an arrow in it was reported near Salado Creek, downtown. “As we got closer, it ran off,” Hensley said.
The Village also disposed of a deer carcass in the Creek at the low water crossing in Mill Creek. “I could not tell if it had been shot or died of other causes,” Hensley said. “The buzzards had already been working on it pretty hard.”
The debate over the deer population has polarized Salado in the past two years. However, this rancorous discussion on social media, in coffee shops and at public meetings is similar to that which other communities in the state have gone through and continue to face as they struggle with the problems of a growing urban and suburban deer population.
The community should learn from the mistakes, missteps and success of other communities, as well as listening to what experts from the Texas Parks & Wildlife and other state agencies have to say about the issues of deer in a suburban community.
Last year, the Village sponsored a town hall meeting on the topic of controlling a growing population of white tail deer in a suburban community.
Specialists included biologist Wolter, from Texas Parks and Wildlife, Charles Edwards, former Mayor of Lakeway, Dr. Walt Cook, chief wildlife veterinarian at Texas A&M University College of Veterinarian, Bryan Durlock, Bell County Game Warden, John Cornelius, Wildlife Management professional, Laura Murphy, past president of the Bell County Master Gardeners and Susan Terry, former Salado alderman and Keep Salado Beautiful president.
Wolter said that defining the problem is the first step to a community’s success in combatting an ever-growing urban deer population.
Former mayor Edwards told the audience that this is what was done in Lakeway before a program was pursued to control the population. “We documented the number of accidents involving cars and deers, the numbers of deer that were being disposed of by the city workers,” Edwards said.
Lakeway figures for deer deaths due to accidents was more than 200 per year when the town of about 15,000 outside of Austin began a methodic approach to culling the white tail deer herd.
In the first year of Lakeway’s Trap, Transport and Transplant program, 650 deer were moved to ranches in Texas. Edwards said that the process for a local Texas ranch to become a recipient of the TTT deer was too prohibitive for much local participation.
“We could not get relocation permits,” Edwards explained, “Ranchers did not want to follow through with permit process because they had to justify that they had the carrying capacity.
So then, the city moved 800 deer to ranches in Mexico. “Mexican ranchers picked them up in Laredo,” Edwards said.
Because of the threat of Chronic Wasting Disease in the white tail deer population, Trap, Transport and Transplant programs have become very costly to implement without much demand for the deer.
Lakeway spends more than $30,000 per year on its deer population control program.
The other TP&W program to control white tail deer populations is a Trap, Transport and Process permit in which deer are ultimately killed and processed with the meat donated to local non-profit agencies.
Lakeway donates the majority of deer meat through its TTP permit to Austin-based agencies such as the Capitol Area food bank.
Wolter and Edwards concur that building consensus in the community is crucial to the success of any control program. Edwards said that since Lakeway began its program about 15 years ago, “there are a whole lot of new people in town and we’ve got to educate them.”
In addition to the TTP program, Edwards said that Lakeway also has a strong Do Not Feed the Deer ordinance. Implementation of this program required a great deal of education about the harms of feeding corn to deer, according to Edwards.
“Having the political will to implement a program is the hardest thing to overcome,” Edwards said. “Then you have to find the money for the program.”
According to Wolter,.there are several approaches to controlling deer population in suburban and urban areas, with varying costs and effectiveness.
High fencing costs more than $25,000 per mile and works only on closed properties such as ranches.
Trap and relocate programs cost more than $150 per deer. However, some transplant programs have seen as much as 50 percent fatality among the deer, according to Wolters.
John Cornelius, a wildlife management professional, said that with new approaches in transplanting deer, the fatality rate that he has seen in his transplant programs is closer to three to five percent.
Sterilization and birth control programs are not effective in open deer populations, according to both Wolters and Cornelius. Both iterated that these are expensive approaches with limited success. These programs can easily cost more than $750 per deer and are most effective in closed populations behind high fences where the number of does coming into and out of the herd are controlled.
Laura Murphy, with the Bell County Master Gardeners and Susan Terry, with Keep Salado Beautiful addressed issues for homeowners who have trouble keeping deer from eating their landscape.
“There is no such thing as a deer-proof landscape,” according to Murphy who said that deer will eat even so-called resistant plants during drought conditions. “When there is plenty to browse, they will leave unfriendly plants alone, but when it is dry they will eat just about anything,” Murphy said.
Spraying garden areas with predator urine is temporary at best, according to Murphy. Rains and sprinkler systems will dilute the spray quickly.
Electric fences have limited effectiveness when the deer figure out a way around, under or over them, according to Murphy. These fences might work best around small vegetable gardens.
Terry and Murphy recommend homeowners get a copy of the Agrilife Extension and Grow Green resource book on “Native and Adapted Landscape Plants.”
An electronic version of the book can be found online at https://www.austintexas.gov/sites/default/files/files/Watershed/growgreen/plantguide.pdf.