Council member proposes trapping, euthanizing deer in Cape

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Loretta Schneider believes she may have found the answer to the question about how best to manage deer in Cape Girardeau's city limits -- trap them, euthanize them and harvest their meat to feed the hungry.

The Cape Girardeau City Council member said Wednesday she plans to present the new plan, which she sees as a compromise to a controversial proposal to allow people to hunt deer with bow and arrows. She is calling her plan a "wildlife control" measure.

"There are so many advantages to this," Schneider said. "First of all, I think it's much more humane than bowhunting which, obviously, is not favored by a great many of the people of Cape Girardeau."

The seed was planted by

Schneider's son, who lives in Helena, Mont. In November, he told her how the growing deer population has been managed there for the past five years. According to a report provided by municipal officials there, a city task force in Helena developed an urban deer management plan in 2007. Mule deer were multiplying in the city limits because of ample forage, water and general habitat conditions.

The city held extensive meetings that included members of the public, wildlife specialists and others that led to a multipronged approach that included public education, a review of laws and zoning ordinances, promotion of deer-resistant landscaping and barriers and a plan to reduce the number of deer through trapping and euthanasia.

The city initiated its deer-reduction plan in early 2008 with a pilot program that called for catching and killing 50 deer by the end of October that year. The police department set clover traps on private property in portions of the city that were frequently used by deer. Clover traps are made with a pipe frame and are enclosed with 4- to 6-inch mesh netting. A trip wire is attached to a trigger mechanism that causes the door to close behind the animal. Traps are baited with grains, apples and other items during the evening, and police check them in the morning.

Upon capture, the deer would be euthanized using a captive bolt gun, a common method for stunning animals before slaughter in which a bolt penetrates the animal's brain. In Helena, carcasses would be moved to a conservation facility to be field dressed and stored. When at least five were in storage, the carcasses would be taken to a local meat processor and then donated to community food banks.

Since the program's beginning, Helena has captured hundreds of deer in an attempt to get its deer population down to 25 deer per square mile. The city did do an official count.

Schneider acknowledged that the program would involve some costs. Clover traps are sold by some companies for about $850 apiece. Manpower would also be a factor, though Schneider believes most of that could be handled with existing personnel.

"The good thing is we would know how many deer are being eliminated," she said. "I know that many of the details would have to be worked out, but I'm hoping we can have our count done this fall and get something started next year."

Schneider has spoken with Russell Duckworth, district supervisor of the Missouri Department of Conservation. Duckworth said Wednesday deer trapping and euthanizing has pros and cons. Similar programs have been tried in the St. Louis area, he said.

One benefit, Duckworth said, is that trapping removes a concern about the use of a projectile, such as an arrow. Disadvantages, he said, include the cost that the program brings and the fact it may not be as effective as some might hope.

"You're talking about trapping one deer at a time in the best-case scenario and possibly not catching a deer at all in some time periods," Duckworth said.

Duckworth spoke as if it may not be a more humane method anyway. Whitetail deer would suffer a lot of stress while being trapped in what is basically a cage.

Meanwhile, Cape Girardeau Mayor Harry Rediger spoke as if talk of a different proposal may be putting the cart before the horse. Rediger said he's interested in hearing a report back from city staff members, led by city manager Scott Meyer, about a total program recommendation.

"To me, that's where we left it," Rediger said. "When the staff comes back, of course we'll have interaction with the council and anyone on the council is open to present any other option."

But those who oppose urban deer hunting in Cape Girardeau were not impressed with Schneider's proposal. Stephen Stigers, who heads Cape Friends of Wildlife, said trapping and killing does not sound like a humane solution to him. He pointed out that being trapped would be so damaging to deer that many would not survive.

"They have a myopathy that essentially destroys muscles and causes multiorgan failure and high temperature when they're stressed. It's not a good solution," Stigers said. "I don't see it as a good compromise at all."

Stigers said his group is not simply digging in its heels in opposition to any proposal. Stigers understands that some people are having problems with deer eating plants and that "without fencing, deer signs and some aggressive approaches to road safety" deer collisions with motor vehicles are a problem, too.

Deer, no matter how they're killed, will only be replaced by new deer coming into the city, Stigers said.

"But I do not think killing deer is scientifically the right way to go," Stigers said. "We have strong science on our side against needing to kill the deer."

smoyers@semissourian.com

388-3642

Pertinent address:

401 Independence, Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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