CONNIE SWINNEY • STAFF WRITER
GRANITE SHOALS — After a rigorous series of written and field tests, Granite Shoals City Councilman Mark Morren has added “deer harvest team specialist” to his repertoire of skills, which have included everything from utility designer to wildlife management guide.
“It was really natural because it was kind of like my occupation,” said Morren, an expert rifle and archery hunter, who hosts about 75 people on hunts each year as a wild game outfitter.
Morren is one of 10 people, including fellow councilman Todd Holland and wildlife committee chairman Jason Brady, who will comprise the team tasked with culling the deer herd within the city limits through a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and city pilot program.
“We all have experience in hunting, which is helpful,” Morren said. “You’ve got to keep down the numbers for the animals to sustain a healthy body composition.”
Morren and the rest of the team will stage in 10 private and public areas within the city limits from Oct. 4 through Jan. 15, 2017, with the goal of reducing the deer herd by about 200. The program works within the TPWD’s Managed Land Deer Permit program, which allows for landowners involved to have more flexibility in harvest opportunities or the number of deer taken.
Hunters will target does (antlerless deer) only and use tracking strings attached to arrows for easier locating of targeted deer.
The program came about following concerns about accidents, property damage, and the potential for disease-ridden wildlife.
Granite Shoals city officials launched a committee and worked with the state to conduct studies and design the program.
Holland is the only other councilman who made the harvest team and said he supported the idea, in part, because the program is “at no cost to the city” and could set a precedent for other communities.
“Additionally, we’re the first municipality in the state of Texas to take on this type of program,” Holland said.
The program coincided with the city’s overall control effort, which included a deer-feeding ordinance; however, harvest team members expressed concern after petitioners over the summer succeeded in placing the newly passed code on the Nov. 8 ballot for a vote by the community.
“That’s our challenge since everybody is still feeding,” Morren said. “We may not have the numbers to those feeding sites because the deer will be full from whatever the neighbors have fed them.”
Officials have also launched an effort to document the number of deer tied to traffic accidents to provide more evidence of potential danger, officials said.
While Granite Shoals forges ahead with the pilot program, other area communities such as Horseshoe Bay, Lakeway, and Barton Creek Lakeside have opted to continue more traditional deer-trapping efforts, noting the success of those methods.
“The crashes have decreased quite a bit from the high of 500,” Horseshoe Bay City Manager Stan Farmer said.
When Horseshoe Bay officials first implemented their trapping program in 2001, public safety officials reported as many as 500 vehicle collisions involving deer on RR 2147 through the heart of the community.
In the most recent 11-month-long study, Horseshoe Bay police reported about 135 deer accidents on RR 2147 attributed to the decrease in the amount of deer due to trapping, Farmer said.
In February, the city of Burnet took a different approach and passed an ordinance that limited the feeding of deer and approved prohibiting the practice within a certain distance from roadways.
“The council, overall, felt like this was a good way to try to address the issue without overreaching at this time,” Burnet City Manager David Vaughn said. “While this ordinance doesn’t do anything to address the population overall, it is intended to help stop congregation of those animals within a safety zone around the roadway.”
For the Granite Shoals program, harvest team members will use their own equipment and receive no compensation.
As a trade, team members have the option of determining the outcome of bagged deer.
“We will field dress it, and there’s a list of people who want the deer already,” said Morren, referencing the Granite Shoals Church Alliance, which assists residents in need. “Our main deal is to give it back to the people of Granite Shoals.”