Living With Deer

The Concern

Abnormally large deer populations in suburbs have become a common problem throughout the United States. Deer proliferate in suburban areas, which are void of natural predators and abundant with lush lawns and tasty landscape shrubs. Certainly there is some migration, but does tend to stay at home. With an annual growth rate of 20%-30% it does not take long for a population to reach very large numbers.

Overpopulation can result in serious malnutrition and disease among the deer. It caused damage to landscapes and gardens. Over browsing of the greenbelts and forested areas of the community can reduce the habitat of other animal species, such as forest understory birds, and the disappearance of hardwood saplings that will be needed in the future to replace today’s mature trees.

Of greater concern, however, is the danger deer pose to community motorists. National statistics indicate deer are struck by motor vehicles more than a million times a year, causing more than $1 billion in damage. More than 100 people are killed annually in these accidents, making deer more deadly to humans than sharks, alligators, bears, and rattlesnakes combined.

Humans are sometimes required to fill the role of natural predation and remove some deer in order to maintain a healthy and safe environment for both deer and humans. The City of Horseshoe Bay and its residents have always considered their deer as an asset to be admired and appreciated. It has never been the intention of the city’s deer management program to eradicate deer from Horseshoe Bay. However, reasonable efforts to control a public health and safety issue compelled the city leadership to take action.

Determination of the “acceptable” number of deer in Horseshoe Bay is a subjective matter. The primary criteria are: health and safety of both deer and residents; cost to the public and to individual residents for deer-related damage to public and private property, and to related costs for maintenance. These are tempered by the desire of many Horseshoe Bay homeowners to retain a resident deer population for esthetic value.

Possible Solutions

Certainly, it is possible – even desirable – for humans and deer to live in harmony with one another in Horseshoe Bay. The key is managing the population so the deer do not eat themselves out of house and home or become an unacceptable safety threat on City roadways. Several possibilities for achieving this have been examined in communities throughout the United States, some of which have been applied in areas much like Horseshoe Bay. These remedies include fencing, fertility control, doe sterilization, trap and relocation, trap and euthanize and sharp shooting.

Fencing

A high, continuous, encircling fence can effectively stem migratory flow into or out of a community. Without gates or cattle guards, however, deer can simply enter or leave on roadways. While fencing theoretically would help to contain this problem, research indicates that local overpopulation is, for all practical purposes, the result of unchecked local reproduction rather than inward migration.

Fertility Control

Fertility control in deer seems like a logical and humane solution, but is not one void of problems. Immuno-contraception holds promise for controlled environments, but the challenge of darting the same does with two inoculations three to six weeks apart in a 12 square mile area such as Horseshoe Bay is very small. To be effective, these must be followed by annual boosters during the fall mating season. Immuno-contraception is also expensive – estimated at $500 to $1,600 during the lifetime of a doe.  Also, deer will still need to trapped to give these shots.

Surgical Sterilization of Does

Tubal ligation of the doe population is generally considered an effective approach for birth control. It would be a permanent surgical procedure, which can be performed in the field. However, at over $1,000 per animal, it is considerably more expensive than other methods.

The primary concern with sterilization is that Texas Parks and Wildlife does not have a permitting process for sterilization as a means of controlling urban deer populations. In Texas, deer are the property of the state, and any management program must be permitted by the state. Furthermore, sterilization has not been proven effective in an open environment the size of Horseshoe Bay.

Trap & Relocate

This option entails capturing the deer and relocating them to another area with a wildlife management plan that has been approved by TPWD. Relocation must be done every year in order to maintain the targeted population. Costs for trapping and relocation are affected by how far the deer must be moved, but can range from an extra $150 - $200 per animal above trapping cost of $125 per deer.  Also, each year there is never demand by ranchers for deer to be located to their ranches.

A receiving ranch must obtain permission from Texas Parks and Wildlife and demonstrate that it has capacity to accommodate transplanted deer. Although Central Texas ranches have requested deer long ago in the past, the current statewide overpopulation of white tailed deer has all but precluded transplanting them.

Trap & Euthanize

When there are no relocation sites available, trap and euthanize is the other viable option. After capture, deer are transported to an off-site location where they are euthanized. The deer are processed, and the meat is made available to area charities, such as food shelters in Austin and San Antonio. Cost per animal with this procedure is about $150 per animal.

Sharpshooting

This option has been successful in certain areas of the country, but is a difficult sell because of the obvious safety concerns.

Conclusion

The deer belong to the State of Texas, and there are rules and regulations that control our deer population. The City of Horseshoe Bay is allowed to manage the deer in our community as long as we follow the state’s rules.

While the city considers trapping and relocating to be a viable option when available, it currently traps and process deer as the most practical and effective method of deer population control.

The city’s deer management program has been successful in achieving manageable deer populations for approximately 6 years. The HSB POA conducted the same type program prior to 2010 for many years.  In addition, it is considered by Texas Parks and Wildlife, and independent wildlife biologists, as one of the most successful urban deer management programs in the state of Texas.  Horseshoe Bay’s trapping process is held up as a model to emulate across Texas by Texas Parks and Wildlife.


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