Communities battle deer populations blamed for crashes, health hazards

CONNIE SWINNEY • STAFF WRITER

BURNET — Motorist safety, property damage and the potential for diseased herds have prompted several cities in the Highland Lakes to take steps to rid their communities of an overabundance of white-tailed deer, officials say.

Burnet, Granite Shoals and Horseshoe Bay are three communities in various stages of deer-control efforts that include feeding prohibitions, trapping and removal and herd-thinning recommendations.

The Burnet City Council drafted a proposed ordinance currently under consideration to prohibit residents from feeding deer after receiving complaints in the Delaware Springs subdivision.

“Over the course of the past — in the time I’ve been here — almost 10 years, the population of deer, at least in the Delaware Springs area, has quadrupled. It has just exploded,” Burnet Mayor Gary Wideman said.  “There are some folks that feed deer directly in their driveway. About 5 o’clock in the evening, there will be 30 or 40 deer roaming across the road.

“Especially this time of year, as it gets dark so much earlier, there’s just a lot of danger that comes to folks driving cars and people riding bikes with cars swerving,” he added.

Wideman said the practice of feeding deer has created not only a traffic hazard but health and property damage issues as well.

“The corn feed (people) put down is an attractant. It’s not really nutritional. It’s more like a candy for them,” Wideman said. “One of the problems that arises from that is the deer are going to go where the food is easiest to get, but then they tend to harbor in those areas.”

He added that residents have expressed concerns about an increase in animal droppings as well as damage to property foilage.

While Burnet is in the early stages of deer control, the city of Horseshoe Bay has battled deer numbers with a feeding prohibition and annual trappings for more than a decade.

In its 15 square miles, counters estimated about 1,800 to 2,000 deer.

In the early 2000s, a count of deer carcasses collected as a result of collisions showed about 500 strikes on the main roadway through the city.

“It’s not cheap when a 200-pound animal runs into your car at 45 miles per hour,”  Horseshoe Bay City Manager Stan Farmer said. “The average deer hit (costs) approximately $3,000.”

An aggressive trapping program has lessened the numbers.

“Now, the number of deer carcasses picked up are approximately 185. That’s way down from 500, and that’s a lot better,” Farmer added. “There are less than 200 hit recently in one year.”

The next scheduled trapping of white-tailed deer starts Dec. 5. The permit allows for trapping through March 31, 2016.

Horseshoe Bay contracts with Cherokee Capturing Services, based in Lampasas County, to collect about 600 deer per year.

The company also traps for the city of Lakeway.

A trapper, once or twice per week, erects six to eight nets per night and catches 14-35 deer in that time period, Farmer said.

The city pays $125 per deer along with a $25 processing fee per deer to prepare the animal for food banks and other charitable food organizations in Austin, the Hill Country and the San Antonio area, he added.

“It is working in that we’ve had less collisions on (RR) 2147, so that improves public safety,” he said.

Another concern involves the potential for Lyme disease spread by deer ticks, he added.

While Horseshoe Bay works to manage about 1,800 deer in a 15-square-mile radius, the city of Granite Shoals has launched efforts to wrangle nearly 800 deer in a four-square-mile radius.

Areas of concern involve the southern part of the city near Lake LBJ and a count that estimated about 50 to 100 deer carcasses found per year as the result of vehicle collisions, Granite Shoals City Manager Ken Nickel said.

Officials with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department recently took a sampling count and estimated 778 deer.

On Dec. 15, Granite Shoals city officials are expected to vote on a recommendation by the city’s wildlife advisory committee on “thinning out of the herd.”

“We’re overpopulated. The wildlife (advisory) committee is now tasked with making a recommendation to the city council,” Nickel said. “There’s a whole range of things from outlawing deer feeders to trapping to even archery, a controlled hunt.”

The city council is scheduled to meet at 6 p.m. Dec. 15 at city hall, 2221 N. Phillips Ranch Road in Granite Shoals, to discuss possible control measures.

On Dec. 8, Burnet City Council is scheduled to meet at 6:30 p.m. at city council chambers, 2402 S. Water (U.S. 281) in Burnet in the Highland Lakes Squadron building on its proposed wild animal ordinance.

The second reading and possible passage may involve a more specific  proposal that would outlaw feeding within 200-300 feet from a roadway, Wideman said.

“We might want to try to massage it a little bit,” he said.

The proposed feeding ordinance also would prohibit the feeding of feral cats.

“Obviously, there’s a huge population problem with wild animals in particular. If they’re not in someone’s home, a majority of the time, you never when they may have been bitten by a rabid animal, and, of course, that’s a risk to the citizens,” he said. “If at all possible, we’re trying to find a way to really stem that issue.”

Offenders could face a maximum fine up to $500 per violation.

“We have to try to find a way to change people’s habits. It’s not that we don’t love animals. Lord knows I’ve got six cats and two dogs and a hefty pet bill,” Wideman said. “I understand people’s hearts in the matter as far as the random feeding of animals, but it actually does more harm than good.

“If we don’t get on top of this soon, we’re going to run into a situation with more drastic measures, whether it be trapping or whatever,” he added. “That’s just something we don’t want to have to do.”

connie@thepicayune.com

9 thoughts on “Communities battle deer populations blamed for crashes, health hazards

  1. I definitely think that granite shoals should do some sort of controlled hunting. There are many places in gs where an individual can safely harvest a deer with proper archery equipment. Would also love to see some bowhunting opportunities as an outdoorsman.

  2. Having been a member of the Granite Shoals Wildlife Committee during the majority of the processes and fact gathering there were two items that were generally discussed as a major problem but not yet put into official language. Despite the City Manager’s statement about accidents, which is mostly heresay, there has not been records of any kind kept until requested by the Wildlife Committee. For 6 months after that request, still no documentations nor accident counts were provided. A draft document of a No-Feeding ordinance was made but placed on hold pending a more comprehensive Deer Management Plan due to such a ordinance by itself may be counter-productive and virtually useless, by itself, for deer management purposes, as was noted more than once by Texas Parks & Wildlife Deer Management professionals. At least one counciperson supports the “thinning” of the herd by firearms in the hands of “skilled” persons. One or two others thinks the same way about Bow Hunting. Both ignore the cardinal rules of Hunting as to “background of target” and safety issues related to the close proximity of homes which may include children. This callous disregard for the families and especially possible involvement of children in “line-of-fire” and/or ricochet incidents seems to be in line with the city’s lack of provisions for youth programs and facilities access in their 19 local neighborhood parks. So this may not be as thoughtful a consideration as one would normally think.

    It is most interesting, as well, that financial information that was provided to the GS Wildlife Committee concerning the best Comprehensive Management Plan called: “Trap & Processing”, was much higher than the $150 claimed by Lakeway. It was estimated this past year to be near $250-$300 per animal for a period of more than 5 years minimum, which the City does not have the will nor interest to make a budget item. It must also be considered that at least 1/2 of head counts be removed every year for several breeding cycles (5 or ore years), and re-counted every year in order to be an effective management plan. At the estimated costs noted by the Lakeway costs, this entails approximately a $50,000 – $60,000 per year investment by the City. The fact that the City Manager nor the City Council will not even provide 1/4 that much money as an amenity investment in their local parks recreational facilities for the 830-1000 youth citizens says a lot as to the future of the deer population. These factors were some of the reasons I resigned from the Wildlife Committee, considering the committee members being very well intended and good citizens but the entire management process eventually being hijacked and rendered ineffective due to pending lack of funding. With the “problems” the city seems to have in basic streets development and repair. both the Deer situation and the Youth & Family situations of the parks will need to be re-considered in the next few budget sessions, if at all. 5 Years of promises in the City Comprehensive Plan as to the youth/ park facilities Goals and Objectives and still no appropriate budget actions prove that the deer situation will need to wait at least another 5 years or more. If the City Council acts now for funding the deer program then that will only highlight the lower status they have given to the youth and families.

    To allow firearm or bow hunting only exacerbates the lack of real concern for the health and well-being of those same children, youth, and families.
    If there is documented proof other than stated here, then show it without excuses. However, don’t just completely trust me, do the research yourself. I was there.

  3. Forgot to mention that it is very highly unlikely that the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department will accept local citizen bow hunting and a definitive NO to any firearms uses for urban deer herd thinning. The only Bow hunting that would be acceptable to the TP&W would be a TP&W certified & approved professional experienced in Urban Deer Control and Management programs. This information directly from a visiting representative of the TP&W. But the again, this is GS government we are talking about.

  4. I would have liked to have seen more info in this article about the danger that deer pose from carrying Lyme disease. My family doesn’t believe me when I tell them that they should not feed deer. They are stepping directly where the deer hang out to eat, and could get the ticks that transmit this horrible disease to humans. In Texas, we have our very own brand of Lyme. It is called Stari disease, named after the Lone Star tick.

  5. I just hit a deer 3 days ago on FM 1980 caused about 6000.00 in damages
    they gathered at the church parking there on 1980 ever night, they are bad.

  6. It is a terrible idea to allow any kind of bow hunting in Granite Shoals. Kids play and ride their bikes all over town, this would be very unsafe. The city should consider any other options.

    1. They are going to have a council meeting on this matter on Dec. 15th. You may want to check to be sure. If you do not speak out you will lose. Remember only 7.7% of eligible voters elected these people. 96.3% are losers.

    2. You must know absolutely nothing about hunting. Must be a liberal from the northern states. Obviously they would not allow people to bowhunt around parks or anywhere kids would be playing. There is still plenty of open land around the city to safely and accurately discard a bow.

      1. Wow, I express concern over the safety of children and I get insulted. For the record, I am not a liberal, am not from a northern state, and I know quite a bit about hunting. I also know that kids play and ride their bikes all over town, not just in certain areas. Much of the “open land” around town is also private property. Explain to me how you are going to allow hunting in town without encouraging trespassing and while keeping children safe. Are kids now only going to be able to play or ride bikes in non-hunting areas? Allowing hunting in an incorporated city is a terrible idea and will be bad for public safety.

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