No more free lunch for deer?

A late-2014 flyover of the most likely areas to find deer -- around the southern end of Lake Owasso, the neighborhood south of Lake Johanna and the Reservoir Woods open space --  revealed 61 deer in roughly three-quarters of a square mile of suitable habitat.
A late-2014 flyover of the most likely areas to find deer -- around the southern end of Lake Owasso, the neighborhood south of Lake Johanna and the Reservoir Woods open space -- revealed 61 deer in roughly three-quarters of a square mile of suitable habitat. (submitted graphic)
A large deer population has caused headaches for Roseville residents, particularly those living in the Lake Owasso area. Residents report herds tromping through yards, leaving droppings and eating vegetation. (Submitted photo)
A large deer population has caused headaches for Roseville residents, particularly those living in the Lake Owasso area. Residents report herds tromping through yards, leaving droppings and eating vegetation. (Submitted photo)

Roseville examines feeding ban, controlled hunt

At least one thing was agreed on at the Roseville Parks and Recreation Commission's Feb. 3 meeting on deer control: stop feeding them. Even one of the deer feeders was on board.

But public input on whether the city should authorize a controlled hunt ranged from people with shaking voices describing gory photos of dead deer to those who announced "I like venison!" and asked hypothetically, "How many shrubs does it take to make a deer breakfast?" 

At the end of the testimony, the commission decided to forward a draft wildlife-feeding ban, with penalties, to the city council for consideration. 

It also agreed to pursue a larger wildlife management ordinance which could contain controlled archery or firearm hunts to trim the deer population in the city. 

What's the problem?

The commission is responding to a volley of complaints about deer in 2014. Until now, there were fewer than 10 calls a year to the city, but for some reason deer-human conflicts seem to have reached a tipping point.

Parks and Recreation Director Lonnie Brokke presented state and county research and information on other communities' efforts to a packed chamber. 

Chiefly, he said, the number of deer counted by a helicopter seems to be too large for the suitable area available.

A late-2014 flyover of the most likely areas to find deer -- around the southern end of Lake Owasso, the neighborhood south of Lake Johanna and the Reservoir Woods open space --  revealed 61 deer in roughly three-quarters of a square mile of suitable habitat. Ramsey County's and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources' findings are that 20-25 deer per square mile is better for the deer themselves, helping to prevent the spread of disease and keeping deer from overforaging yards and parks. 

In Roseville, the ideal number would be between 15 and 19 deer, but they've averaged about 43 over the past nine years of flyovers.

Brokke's presentation also noted that not all the deer are counted in the flyovers; some may be in other areas of the city or sheltering where they can't be seen. 

Two common strategies he outlined to deal with deer overpopulation: a ban on feeding them, and some kind of controlled hunt.

Comissioners Jerry Stoner and Terrance Newby spearheaded the commission's research. They found that banning residents from feeding deer helps to keep deer from gathering in the same areas, reducing complaints and lessening the likelihood of car-deer crashes. 

In a survey of Roseville's neighboring cities:

  • Lauderdale and Falcon Heights have no feeding ban or other deer policy
  • Arden Hills has no deer policy, but has benefited from Ramsey County hunts on county parkland and controlled hunts once held at the TCAAP property
  • Little Canada has an annual hunt contracted through bowhunters
  • Maplewood has a feeding ban and controlled hunts coordinated with Ramsey County
  • St. Paul has a feeding ban and controlled hunts in parks

Controlled hunts in other cities and Ramsey County parks are conducted within the correct statewide season, with bowhunting in the archery season (mid-September to Dec. 31) and sharpshooting in the firearms season (three weeks of November in the metro deer management area). Ramsey County uses the Metro Bowhunters Resource Base to recruit archers; some cities pay the USDA or private contractors to supply sharpshooters. Generally, the meat is given to charities. 

'A yard full of ...'

Whatever the deer's opinions, residents had plenty to say.

Roger Toogood, who lives in the Owasso area, presented photos of a yard with a large pile of corn. Around the corn, the snow appeared to be trampled by hoofprints extending in every direction. Photos of neighbors' yards showed tracks coming and going from the feeder.

Toogood also pointed out piles of droppings in the photos, as well as pictures of groups of deer sheltering under trees in nearby yards. 

"I love the deer, but it has become an out-of-control situation," he said. "I think we're at the point of concentration we need to do some kind of harvest now."

Mary Jo Schreiber, also of the Owasso area, said she and her husband moved there because "we are proponents for protecting the wildlife and preserving the environment."

Schreiber was one of the residents who said they'd looked at the bowhunting website and were shocked by photos of hunters with the deer they'd shot. She said she also read of incidents of walkers passing by the hunters in parks while the hunt was going on, posing a risk to public safety.

Schreiber said she'd also be against using sharpshooters, noting, "In our townhouse development, there are children who visit often."

Andy Krawczyk, who lives near the Roselawn Cemetery property south of Reservoir Woods, confessed to feeding deer in the winter, starting during the deep snows and long subzero stretch last winter. He displayed photos he's taken around his neighborhood and in the cemetery grounds of the animals, some with impressively large racks of antlers.

Krawczyk said he'd be willing to stop feeding, especially if it prevented a hunt -- "if it would save these guys ... It's just so beautiful to see them."

Krawczyk was one of several residents who said the Reservoir Woods deer seem to have already attracted shooters' attention; reportedly four severed deer heads were found in the cemetery last fall after someone shot the deer and removed the bodies. 

Leona Lundeen, who lives in the area near Lake Josephine, argued passionately for the deer. "We love seeing them walk up the street," she said. "I also believe Roseville is not a 'kill' community. My neighbors are peaceful, calm, rational people."

In Kris Simonson's current neighborhood, someone puts out corn and dog food, attracting pigeons, raccoons and squirrels as well as deer. She's found a rotting deer carcass in her lilac hedge and opened the door to see a Roseville police officer with gun drawn to dispatch a wounded deer. She figures both animals were probably trying to get to the food source but had been struck by cars. 

Simonson argued that deer numbers have already spun out of control. "Just a feeding ban is not going to take care of the problem."

Laura Siegler thanked the commission for its research, adding, "I know you guys didn't want this on your plate." She said she was especially horrified by the idea of bowhunting deer in the city. "It's extremely inhumane ... I started to look at the message boards and they post pictures of themselves with the deer -- very graphic photos where they're smiling." She said she'd also looked up videos posted on YouTube of deer hunts. "They've reached the level of 'sharpshooter,' but the deer run. They don't die immediately." 

'These aren't wild deer'

A couple residents said they'd had alarming confrontations with deer.

Ginger Seybold said the combination of feeding and deer overpopulation in her neighborhood have become a personal-safety issue. 

"When the deer deliver (fawns) in the back yard, they protect their territory," she said, describing a situation in which she was walking her dog along a street south of Lake Owasso and was stopped by a deer that blocked her path. She hailed a passing driver, who took her and the dog farther up the block and dropped them off, at which point the deer cut them off again. 

"Luckily, the driver saw this in his rearview mirror and came back; he escorted me home," Seybold said. "No sooner did I go into my house than the deer was at my front door."

Adele Kaufman said she's encountered the same behavior in county parks from deer apparently guarding fawns. "I have been followed, I have been stalked, I have been cornered by deer, with or without my dog," she said.

Both women said they'd called the DNR to report what happened. Kaufman said, "I was told 'There's never been an incident of a female deer attacking a human.' End of story. Well, I don't want to be that first statistic."

Seybold said she called the DNR office at the Carlos Avery Wildlife refuge and got a similar skeptical reaction. 

"Then I realized: the experience at Carlos Avery is wild deer, and we don't have wild deer here," she said. 

Ban being drafted, shooting up in the air

Among audience members and commissioners, the feeding ban was a shoo-in idea.

Controlled hunting, on the other hand, seemed less palatable.

Members debated whether they should build some kind of population or complaint-level goal into the ordinance, so a hunt could take place if there were still problems after a certain number of years of banning feeding. 

One challenge in allowing a hunt: the city would have to adopt an ordinance to allow firearm or bow shooting, which is currently banned citywide. That action would be separate from any wildlife ordinance that might be adopted.

Or the commission could just recommend the feeding ban and leave it to future commissioners and city council members to judge whether it were working. At that point, those future groups could wrestle with the controlled hunt option.

That idea brought Toogood and several others back to the podium to urge the commission to decide the matter now.

"In the hundred years I've been working with the city, I've learned that they always want more and more recent information," Toogood said. "As long as you're doing it, please include the hunt so as not to have to come back and go through this whole process again."

Commissioners agreed to draft a feeding ban that could be adopted quickly, with more research into an overall wildlife management plan.

Holly Wenzel can be reached at review@lillienews.com.


The Shoreview model

Commission members Terrance Newby and Jerry Stoner praised Shoreview's approach to deer several times during the Feb. 3 deer discussion, suggesting it's a model Roseville might follow. 

"Of the 15 communities around us, every one that had a problem has a wildlife management ordinance," Stoner said. "Shoreview's addressed most the concerns people would have."

Shoreview bans "intentionally feeding" wild animals by putting out grain, fruit, vegetables, salt licks or other attractants. The ban doesn't include living shrubs and trees animals might eat. 

Songbird feeders are allowed as long as they're at least 5 feet off the ground and equipped with reasonable measures to prevent other animals from using them.

Fines for violating the feeding ban range from $100 to $300.

Shoreview Public Works Service Coordinator Charlie Grill said the ban helps keep deer healthy and wary of humans. "Anywhere you're bringing large amounts of animals into tighter spaces, diseases transfer much more quickly. In the wild, they'd be in groups or herds, but more spread out.

"And feeding also domesticates them a little bit," he said. "If you walk up to a deer and it doesn't run away, that's not natural."

Shoreview also runs a controlled bow hunt in the privately-owned Victoria Valley Orchard each year, killing five to ten deer on average. Hunters are asked to focus on does, because each may have one to three offspring annually.

"I don't think we've ever reached a state that we've taken too many deer," Grill said. "Given the odds we're facing, I don't think that's possible."

In Shoreview's experience with Ramsey County hunts within the city, trails running close to the hunt areas are posted with warning signs or closed. 

The two-pronged approach seems to have lessened deer-people friction, Grill said. "We've been very lucky to have a great public who understand what we're trying to do."

In fact, Newby and Stoner found, complaints about deer in Shoreview have lessened greatly and now seem to be coming mainly from one frustrated area: the neighborhoods along the Roseville border. 


 

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