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.”