Deer ordinance herded back to the drawing board

Two proudly-pointed members of Roseville’s none-too-shy deer population. (submitted photo)
Two proudly-pointed members of Roseville’s none-too-shy deer population. (submitted photo)

Sometimes a wildlife ordinance, well, gets away from you.

At least that seems to be what happened at the Aug. 10 Roseville City Council meeting.

Council members and staff sometimes looked like deer in the headlights and occasionally exchanged growls as the group continued discussion on the contentious topic.

Stop feeding, start hunting?

Resident complaints over the past few years about nuisance deer, especially in neighborhoods where people feed deer, launched a Parks and Recreation study of the issue.

An aerial survey in late 2014 estimated Roseville's deer herd at up to three times the recommended level for the amount of acreage needed to feed and shelter the animals.

Further, the commission found most the cities surrounding Roseville have a policy to deter people from attracting deer with artificial food sources. Many control numbers by relying on organized hunts Ramsey County conducts in its parks or on private acreage, an avenue closed to Roseville because there are no large county-owned parcels in the city.

However, many people enjoy the novelty of seeing deer "in the city," and at a February commission meeting, residents voiced passionate opinions both for and against the feeding ban and hunts.

At an April meeting, the council directed staff to draft a wildlife feeding ban ordinance, as well as a broader wildlife management plan. The Review at the time reported the motion passed with one "no" vote, from council member Tammy McGehee, who argued that explaining to residents why they shouldn't feed the deer would make both the proposed feeding ban and the hunt unnecessary.

'Can't believe it'

To say the draft ordinance presented at the Aug. 10 meeting disappointed both the council and those gathered to watch the discussion would be an understatement.

McGehee was one of several members to question the specificity of the ordinance's language. In the draft, which staffers adapted from the City of Shoreview's ordinance, the definitions of wild animals were so comprehensive as to include ocelots, cheetahs, jackals, Gila monsters, water moccasins and golden frogs.

Staffers indicated that listing particular species in the ban might be necessary, but the council, having already gone through a budget hearing, a solar-power discussion and a parkway debate that night, was having none of it.

"I've never seen a badger here," McGehee said. "And I've never seen a bison here."

Residents were no more impressed. Roger Toogood, who lives in the Owasso area and has been pursuing deer control for two years, called what was presented "wishy-washy."

"This summary is so inadequate, I can't even believe it," Toogood said. "It doesn't even address controlling the numbers of the deer."

"I'm a former CEO and if I'd spent this much time reaching this decision I'd hope someone would fire me," he said before leaving the podium.

Nature through the front window

En route to sending back the ordinance for an overhaul, the council again heard wide-ranging testimony from audience members.

Regular critic Tim Callaghan informed them he did not believe in harming wildlife, "and I will not pay for it."

"Due to a recent Supreme Court decision, that's my right," Callaghan said, apparently referring to the 2014 Hobby Lobby decision granting a faith-based exemption for employers who didn't want to pay for contraception through their health plans. "That's my religious belief."

One resident, familiar to council members from past appearances, said she'd paid $500 so far to live-trap and remove raccoons from under her porch, but raccoons were still showing up, thanks to a neighbor feeding them.

"I don't have any more money," she said.

Bill Frank, another resident in the Owasso area, warned that the city needed to adopt both the feeding ban and the hunt before another two years passed, saying "I don't see anything else that will make a difference in our quadrant."

Frank's testimony indicated how accustomed the deer have become to suburban life. "It's not that I dislike the deer," he said. "A doe gave birth to two fawns in our front yard this summer and they were cute little buggers. We watched them lie under the trees and the doe feed them for a couple days until they all left."

"In fact," Frank added on reflection, "we probably watched them being conceived in the front yard earlier this year."

Hackles rise

As the discussion approached the council's self-imposed 9:30 p.m. curfew and members voted unanimously to keep going into the night, longstanding divisions on the issue made themselves clear.

McGehee said again that she felt a "heavily educational" program would work better than an ordinance and fines. She also said there was a level of personal responsibility involved. "If there are raccoons in your chimney, I'm sorry; that's your own fault. You should have paid for a cap on your chimney," she said. McGehee also suggested solutions used elsewhere such as low-voltage fencing and 8-foot fences that she says successfully deter deer.

Most of all, McGehee said she was against adopting "a really objectionable hunting program when we have it all around us [in neighboring suburbs.]"

McGehee appeared to address her next remarks to the area of the audience where Toogood and Frank were sitting, saying "I'm very sorry the deer eat your petunias from time to time. People in my neighborhood would like to see one or two deer in our yards."

With council members Lisa LaLiberte and Jason Etten saying they'd like to see a more comprehensive ordinance without the "legalese" about reptiles and council member Bob Willmus indicating he supported a controlled hunt, Mayor Dan Roe attempted to sum up the situation.

"You have rights to do what you want on your property, but a feeding ban gets at the nuisances that spill out onto neighboring properties. While somebody may think there's no problem in feeding animals on their property...they travel through other properties to get there."

Roe reminded the council of the problems
Shoreview had with turkeys in 2010, when large groups of the birds were reportedly menacing children at school bus stops and the DNR came in and removed them.

"Our selfish desire to see a wild animal in our yards is actually detrimental to their wildness — they become dependent on us," Roe said. "Let wild animals be wild. We don't want people feeding them."

Roe said he supported a controlled hunt and asked that the feeding ban and wildlife control ordinance include a plan that would involve Ramsey County or the DNR in coordinating a hunt.

McGehee tried again, saying that as she researched other cities' wildlife measures, she found Shorewood, on the south side of Lake
Minnetonka, had held a survey asking residents to vote on a feeding ban, which was approved by 726 out of 924. "Some communities actually, again, go out and find out where some of these critical issues stand in their community," she said, going on to add that people she'd talked to were adamantly against a hunt. "Why don't we listen to some of the residents that we've failed to listen to?"

Roe, who had heard a similar comment previously in the meeting, fired back, "Just because people have different opinions and we do not agree with them does not mean we 'failed to listen to them,' and I think you know that."

"No, I don't, actually," McGehee returned.

Willmus, sitting between the two, said, "I would, frankly, be ready to call the DNR and get in line with our neighbors tomorrow."

After multiple clarifications from staff, including one measure all council members could agree on — adding in McGehee's personally-drafted language to at least define the height and size difference between a "bird feeder" and a "deer feeder" — the meeting adjourned.

Staffers were directed to prepare a draft wildlife-feeding-ban and deer-control ordinance.

Holly Wenzel can be reached at 651-748-7817.


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