Jim Powell guest col: Urban deer in Carson City; it’s not like a zoo
Over the course of the last 30-40 years three significant events have taken place regarding our urban deer population. One event developed slowly while the other two have evolved rapidly. The chronic issue developed over time as urban sprawl grew into deer habitat, the second issue was the habitat destruction resulting from the “Waterfall Fire” in 2004 and the third issue has been the extended drought and the effect on wildland food and water sources.
Combine these issues and the result is a rapidly expanding urban deer population into many areas of Carson City which is likely not to reverse itself as these deer that come into our town as wildlife refuges now find adequate food, water and shelter in our urban environment. In many cases generational young deer born inside the interface know no other life but to survive in the urban setting.
In recent years many affected Carson City citizens have begun to express concerns about personal property destruction, plant life destruction, auto-animal accidents, hunting near town, predator worries, and close human–wild animal encounters, while other residents in Carson City have encouraged their presence by inappropriately feeding them. Not only is feeding them encouraging their presence in Carson City, it’s also against the law and fineable offense for humans to feed big game animals under Nevada Revised Statutes (NRS) 501.382.
While visiting a safari park or a zoo the wild animals being held in enclosures invoke human cute and cuddly responses and likely many of us have fed these zoo or park animals. Our urban deer issue presents our residents with a false fenceless zoo or safari park like atmosphere as the deer mingle in our yards, byways, schools and streets.
From a short distance away and not bothered these deer appear to be docile, benign and the temptation by many folks young or adult would be trying to feed, photograph, or otherwise get close to the seemingly cute little fawns and their does. Nothing could be farther from the truth, while does or fawns may appear docile like in a petting zoo, they are wild, wary of predators and protective of each other and any approach is considered a threat by them. A doe’s defense is its sharp pointed hooves which it uses to stomp predators and threats which could include children and/or pets. In addition, bucks can also use their antlers to defend themselves well.
City Supervisor Karen Abowd and JoAnne Skelly (from UNR Cooperative Extension) as well as a handful of citizens brought this issue to many local groups and agencies including our Carson City Board to Manage Wildlife (CCABW). The CCABW agreed we needed a course of action to educate, increase public awareness and convey a safety message to the general public. To this end, the CCABW, in cooperation with the UNR Cooperative Extension and others developed an advisory mailer we hope can be distributed via community wide mailings such as in city water or power company bills. In addition we contacted the school district and started the process to get the advisory into hands of the K-5 students and their parents.
Another outreach step was the preparation of a Public Service Announcement by Sierra Nevada Outdoors (host Rob Boehmer, now a member of the CCABW) and having it posted at the Carson City Website Home Page (www.Carson.org). In this PSA great background information on the issue and public safety advice is presented by Mr. Boehmer, Supervisor Abowd and Sheriff Ken Furlong. The Sheriff’s office and the Nevada Department of Wildlife are committed through the city emergency communications division to handling life safety issues regarding wildlife as they arise. Please exercise some thought and caution before calling them unless of course you deem it a true emergency. The number to call is 887-2014 for the city dispatch who in turn notifies deputies or NDOW as necessary. A good example of a situation that would warrant a call to the Sheriff would be an injured deer resulting from an animal being hit by an auto.
The current public safety message may just be one step in addressing urban deer and other urban wildlife issues (such as the increasing boldness of coyotes). Two steps beyond this educational program may include obtaining a census of deer within the city and determination of population management objective. Carson City is not the only city in the western U.S. to have these types of issues. For where others have gone a simple google search using the term urban deer problems should take you to communities such as Ashland, Ore., as well as Bountiful and Highland, Utah. These communities are now implementing aggressive urban deer management programs.
Jim Powell is a member of the Carson City Board to Manage Wildlife.