Controlling Deer Herds: Who Has The Rights.


Mar 11, 2001
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Controlling Deer Herds: Who Has The Rights.

By Eileen D. Frese, WEST Newsmagazine


Choosing a method of deer management that is acceptable to everyone always has been a seemingly insurmountable challenge and an emotionally charged issue. Now the stakes have been driven even higher in the city of Town & Country.

The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) has stopped the city's deer relocation program, leaving the community with two legal options. One is to allow the legal trapping and euthanising of deer; the second is to do nothing, as they did prior to the relocation program's inception in the late 1990s.

Is one choice preferable to another? Is there a right or wrong? Many residents are waiting to find out the answer, but that answer stands to further escalate tensions in the community.

When two Town & Country families applied for and received a permit from the state to trap and euthanise deer that they say were destroying their land, many city officials and local animal activists were outraged. The Town & Country Board of Aldermen, in turn, drafted a bill that would make it virtually impossible for the two families to continue this legal method of deer management on their land. The proposed legislation is named the Wiggins Ordinance, after the president of the board of alderman, Patty O. Wiggins.

Town and Country Mayor Skip Mange has not yet signed the ordinance. A decision on this matter is expected, at the latest, during the next board meeting, scheduled for Mon., Jan. 14.

This form of euthanisation in question is done by placing a captive bolt to the deer's head after it has been trapped and is used in slaughterhouses to kill cows. Some argue that a deer is more difficult to euthanise due to the shape of its head.

"My husband and I, along with John and Janet Williamson, made application for a permit to trap and lethally dispose of deer on our properties and to donate their meat to food pantries," said Katherine Burbott, one of the two who applied for the permits. "We were granted those permits in October from the MDC and our traps are set up. We are using a captive bolt device. It is used for the humane dispatch of an animal and is supposed to kill them instantly and isn't messy. It is not a projectile like a gun. The Wiggins ordinance would probably make it impossible to exercise our permit. We have made it clear that if it does become law, we plan to sue the city."

The mayor of Town & Country said he still is researching the subject before making his decision.

"I have not signed it yet and do not at this time know what I'm going to do," Mange said. "I was not given sufficient information to make a judgment. I sent for information from some veterinary and medical experts regarding all the aspects of the issue. Right now they (the two families) can do what they've gotten their permit to do. There is currently nothing on the books to prohibit them from what they have the right to do. It is a very difficult subject."

There are eight board of aldermen members and only five are required to vote. In the city of Town & Country, it would take six member votes to override (veto) a decision by the mayor. The mayor conceivably could not sign the bill, but it could be made into law with an override.

City officials said they have plans to survey local residents this spring on a number of issues concerning the community, one of which is deer management. The issue will not go before the people in a vote because it is a 4th class city (ranking based on size) and a citizen's referendum is not required.

"I doubt very much that it (deer management options) would go in front of the people," said Brent Hobgood, Town & Country city administrator. "The board of aldermen will make any policy decisions themselves. But we will try to get the old program (deer relocation) resuscitated somehow and see if anyone in the state would reconsider."

But state officials stopped the deer relocation program due to an increasing concern about the possibility of diseased animals, which currently is a problem in some areas of the United States, although not in Missouri. And even though state officials say that deer relocation does not significantly reduce the deer population, some residents vehemently disagree.

The termination of the relocation program as well as the permits to trap and euthanise deer has some residents and local activists up in arms.

"It is a very interesting situation because the city of Town & Country planned to trap and relocate deer, but never got the permit to do so from the MDC," said Brunilda Perez, a resident and local animal activist. "The mayor and city administrator said they never heard of any reason why the city was not going to get the permit until December, while the MDC knew that there was an ordinance out there to trap and relocate. I know their (MDC) excuse to stop relocation is to prevent the transmission of disease, but the herd here has been studied by MDC and they saw no signs or symptoms of disease. It's ironic that they issued a permit to kill with the excuse to then donate the meat to pantries if they think the deer herd might not be healthy. And if the deer herd is healthy and to be given away as food, then they should be healthy enough to be relocated."

Officials for the MDC view things differently.

"(Perez's remarks are) interesting because the city's whole basis for passing the (Wiggin's) ordinance is their fear of disease," said John George, urban wildlife biologist for MDC. "Some people got up and said that the use of captive bolting could be a problem because they felt E. coli, salmonella and chronic wasting disease (CWD) might potentially be spread all over their community if they allowed this. Our decision (to stop relocation) is based upon the Missouri Department of Agriculture and the USDA recommendations on the wasting disease national emergency. (It is present in some states.) It is done as a precautionary measure."

The heated debate goes on.

"Yes, the USDA issued an emergency status that all wild animals need to be monitored, but if that is the threat, I don't think the city would want the liability of killing animals and letting people handle animals that could pose a threat to them," Perez said. "MDC has expressed that their belief is that lethal methods are their preferred methods. They believe that the killing of animals is the best option all the time."

Other residents take issue with the activists, expressing dismay that they have political agendas and publicly malign those who do not agree with their way of thinking.

"Some political propaganda has been distributed by activists condemning these two families who have legally obtained permits to try to reduce the number of deer on their properties with the blessing of city hall," said Mark, a resident who requested that his last name not be used for fear of harassment. "More than 200 Town & Country residents signed a petition last summer for the city to have a controlled hunt in Queeny Park to help reduce the deer population here. It has gotten out of control. And even though nothing came of that, these two families did what they needed to do to protect their own properties.

"They've been publicly defamed for taking legal steps to try to control the deer ruining their land. I think it's quite unfair that it even be suggested that they 'move out of town,' a comment that was made in one of the local papers. Whatever happened to people sitting down and listening to others points of view? This political hot potato is going to divide our otherwise quiet city. It doesn't seem fair to anyone. All the do-gooders have to admit that there are more deer than ever at this point."

And relocation seemingly did not work.

"Relocation was never recommended by the MDC because it is not effective in significantly reducing the number of deer," Katherine Burbott said. "A four-year study of the city's deer relocation process showed that we have as many deer now as we did before the city spent hundreds of thousands of dollars. There was also serious concern about the humaneness of the protocol. The first year, 70 percent of the radio monitored (collared) deer that were relocated died and they didn't die happy little deaths."

Experts concur.

"When you look at all causes of death from relocation, 60 to 80 percent of the deer will die from a variety of causes," said George, of the MDC. "We monitored the deer the first year and found that 20 percent died of capture myopathy (stress from the move), 20 percent died by legal hunting, up to 9 percent died from road kill and up to 9 percent died from poaching. At the end of the year, about 70 percent were dead and less than 10 percent was due to poaching (illegal killing of animals).

"With that in mind, is it an efficient or even humane thing to do with deer? If you could get that survival rate considerably higher and not cause problems with the deer, relocation might have more of a use. Stress causes their deaths as much as hunting does. People really want a non-lethal option, but there's not a non-lethal option out there that will get you fewer deer. If you really want fewer deer, you're probably going to have to make a decision that most people won't agree with and then give them the latitude in which to do it."

The families who received the MDC permit to trap and euthanise feel that this is their only option as deer are destroying their land.

"We've been here for 25 years," John Williamson said. "In the first 10 years, we saw an occasional deer which was nice to see and they weren't doing any damage at that time. But for the last 10 years, their population began to explode. People who have lived here a long time, even longer than we had, began to see browse lines (where deer reach up and eat off of trees). They're eating everything as high as they can because there is not enough to eat at the ground level because they've already destroyed that. We have a backyard wildlife habitat that is certified by the National Wildlife Federation and they're destroying the habitat for other species. But some people don't see any deer and because deer aren't always seen universally all over this city, what to do about it remains controversial."

According to a Town & Country survey that was done three years ago (with a 43 percent resident response, Mange said), 45 percent of the residents said that euthanasia with the deer meat going to food banks or relocation would both be acceptable alternatives for reducing the number of deer and 82 percent of the respondents wanted to see the deer number reduced in some way.

"Almost everyone agrees that the number of deer has not been reduced, although the activists would like to give the impression that there may be some reduction," Williamson said. "All the city has done is stabilize the number. I can't believe that 82 percent of the people who wanted the number of deer reduced three years ago are going to support what the city has done without making any progress."

Both families said they have been the victims of harassment by a few who view trapping and captive bolting as torture, but also have been supported by many of their neighbors and others in the community.

Some people argue that trapping and using the captive bolt is cruel to the deer. "Sometime they misfire and the animal is brutalized," said Melinda Rosin-Seltzer, a resident and local member of both PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and START (St. Louis Animal Rights Team). "You have people who have never used this device before and the deer is going to be tortured and the families could get hurt. Can the MDC really say it's OK to kill deer in their backyards? What about the neighbors who might hear or see this? Maybe a better alternative could be contraception. Because there is no conclusive evidence as to its effectiveness, maybe this is the perfect opportunity for the city to be a part of a trial study."

The Missouri Department of Conservation also received a letter from John Grandy, senior vice president of Wildlife and Habitat Protection, stating it was being sent on the behalf of the Humane Society of the Unites States condemning the use of captive bolt and questioning the humaneness of that and the trapping restraint used to capture the animal.

"The sounds the animal makes during trapping would not be any different if it is being trapped for euthanisation or to be relocated to another area," said George of the MDC.

George also expressed surprise that the MDC had received the letter written on behalf of the humane society three years after the relocation program had been active.

"I asked, 'How come after three years you've never contacted anyone from MDC to complain, but now that someone is going to captive bolt deer, you contact us about it immediately?'" George said. "I asked if the Humane Society only agreed with sharp shooting and birth control and he said yes. They've come in entirely from one side and won't listen to anyone else. They have their agenda and that is all they are going to talk about."

There are questions that will not be easily answered. And with emotions running high on both sides and with each side truly believing that theirs is the proper perspective, there likely is not going to be any permanent resolution for a long, long time.


Well-known member
Aug 6, 2001
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I remember when I was living in Michigan during 1999, a city north west of Detroit had an over population problem.  Their plan was to hire a sharp shooter to the tune of a few hundred bucks per kill.

My inlaws live in Fair Oaks Ranch, TX (San Antonio)and about once every 2 years they relocate them to a ranch in Mexico.

Seems to me they could let the residents have an open season bow hunt until populations were reduced to their approval.  

That way the city/townships don't have to pay for a sharpshooter or costs to relocate.  When the community budget increases so do local taxes.  

It's just common sense.  I guess some people like paying higher taxes.  I know I don't.


(Edited by bigtroutbane at 9:04 am on Jan. 10, 2002)

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