Cape Girardeau City Council to consider deer-feed ban Monday

Sunday, April 15, 2012

In what looks to be just a simple first step, the Cape Girardeau City Council will consider an ordinance Monday night that would make feeding deer within the city's boundaries a citable offense that could land offenders in front of a municipal judge.

The seven-member body also intends to discuss adding more deer crossing signs in moves that could be precursors to other deer management measures, such as a hotly debated regulated deer hunt or trapping and euthanizing the animals.

"I don't think this will be our last step, but I think it is a great first step," Councilman John Voss said. "I don't suspect there's going to be unanimous support for controlling the deer population, but I do believe a majority of people believe this is necessary. Feeding the deer, or enticing them to come into the city, is not what we want."

According to the ordinance language for a ban on feeding, no one would legally be allowed to deposit, distribute or leave any fruit, grain, hay, vegetable, mineral, salt or other food with the intent of attracting or feeding white-tailed deer on public or private property. Furthermore, it will be presumed if more than a half-gallon of any of these items is left out at a height of less than six feet off the ground, it was done for the purpose of feeding deer. Also, if the council gives the ordinance final approval at its first meeting in May, any of these materials will have to be removed, including drop or automatic feeders.

Offenders could be issued a summons to municipal court, where a maximum punishment is up to $500 and no more than 90 days in jail. The ordinance also outlaws substances that mimic the odor of attractive food sources and scents related to the "rut," or breeding season, of the white-tailed deer.

Voss, who brought the deer issue up last year, said he intends to vote for the ban but added that the solution to the deer population problem is multifaceted. However, the ban should serve to discourage residents from trying to entice deer into the community, Voss said. A planned count for this fall should help determine how many deer should be harvested, he said, but he does not favor waiting to get a mechanism in place.

Whatever the answer is, Voss said, the council should decide the best approach and get ordinance language prepared and procedures in place to be ready to address what Voss sees as a real problem.

One link in chain

Russell Duckworth, district supervisor of the Missouri Department of Conservation in Cape Girardeau, said a ban on feeding might help cut the population in another way. Well-fed and healthier does tend to have more offspring and triplets are not unheard of, he said. A feeding ban, Duckworth said, is "one link in a chain, one small part" of a well-designed management plan.

"But what effect a ban by itself would have, it's hard to come up with a number on that," he said.

Cape Friends of Wildlife, a small group of residents that formed recently in response to the debate, has been vocal in its opposition to any proposal that calls for killing the deer. But Stephen Stigers, who heads the group, said a feeding ban is a responsible response. He agreed it's probably not a good idea to feed wild animals and a ban should help educate the public about that.

Other regulations the city should consider, he said, are allowing exemptions to fencing regulations for people who want to protect their landscapes. Speed limits should also be more stringently enforced, Stigers said, to help bring down the number of accidents.

A ban "will certainly help us to live in harmony with the deer rather than having to kill them," Stigers said.

The feeding ban will also be among the first decisions facing Trent Summers, who will attend his first regular meeting since his April 3 election as a councilman Monday. Summers didn't indicate how he will vote on the feeding ban, but he reiterated a position he made plain during his campaign -- that he favors urban deer hunting.

"I'm definitely willing to consider steps to get to that, if need be," Summers said. "But I would tend to lean toward implementing a full program versus trying to piecemeal a program together."

Councilwoman Loretta Schneider worried that such a ban might prove difficult to regulate and agreed more needs to be done.

"I do support the ban, and I think it will be a good thing to pass an ordinance,"

Schneider said. "But it's unenforceable and it's not even going to begin to solve the problem."

Schneider intends to vote for the ban anyway, she said, because it's a good way to continue the discussion and move forward with a more effective solution to help reduce the number of deer in town. While the merits of a regulated bowhunting season has been debated for months, Schneider prefers trapping and euthanizing of deer.

Police chief Carl Kinnison said deer feeding violations would be handled by the nuisance abatement officer and would be enforced in a similar fashion as other nuisance violations, such as excessive weeds, noise or litter. Officers would respond when complaints are made and issue summons when a violation was determined to exist. The department already has been contacted by residents who complained that neighbors are feeding deer, Kinnison said.

"I think it is enforceable," Kinnison said. "That doesn't mean we would be out patrolling and going through backyards and so forth looking for deer feeding. But whenever we had a complaint, we would certainly investigate that."

Map of deer accidents

Kinnison's office also sent information to city staff to prepare a map that the council will look at Monday as part of its consideration of adding more deer crossing signs. The map shows deer-car accident locations from 2008 and 2012, with the highest concentration falling along Interstate 55 and on state highways. The city is continuing to review accident locations in relation to the location of existing deer crossing signs.

While some may scoff at their effectiveness, Kinnison said he believes properly placed signs could make a difference.

"I realize there are some people it doesn't have an impact on," Kinnison said. "But there are motorists out there who pay attention to those. When they see those signs, they realize the potential danger and will take extra caution."


Pertinent address:

401 Independence St., Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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