Urban deer issue lingers in aftermath of vote

Sunday, April 7, 2013
Deer are a common sight, like these along Old Sprigg Street Road, and other areas of Cape Girardeau. (Kenneth Amos ~ kamos@semissourian.com)

The deer issue seems to be a problem that just won't go away.

Now that Cape Girardeau residents have overturned an ordinance that would have allowed urban deer bowhunting as a population-control method, the council remains divided about its next step.

As councilman Mark Lanzotti put it, there remains a question about how to solve the deer problem, and "someone is going to have to answer it."

Since fall 2011, the council has formed resident committees, worked with conservation experts and conducted public meetings to determine the most successful way to manage the city's deer population after receiving complaints from citizens about destroyed plants and landscaping and automobile accidents.

Last July, the council approved an ordinance allowing bowhunting inside the city, which Lanzotti said was the most financially responsible decision available.

"I personally do not and will not support any control measure that costs the taxpayers money, when free measures are available," he said.

Councilwoman Loretta Schneider agreed the city's deer population needs to be controlled, but she is unsure a cost-free solution can be found.

"It cost perhaps $20,000 for this recent vote so I don't know that we can find a method that won't cost anything," she said. "But there are alternatives that won't cost much."

Schneider previously said she expected the ordinance to be overturned after the April election and had discussed other feasible control measures with the Missouri Department of Conservation. The councilwoman looked at other towns with similar deer population issues to determine the success of their methods.

"Trapping and euthanizing the deer is an alternative measure that has been highly successful elsewhere," she said. "There is some expense, but not a great one."

But Lanzotti remained firm that he would not support euthanization, trapping or any other alternative that required spending tax dollars. He also will not support any effort to revive interest in creating an urban deer hunting program in Cape Girardeau.

Mayor Harry Rediger has made similar statements. After the vote to repeal the ordinance was confirmed he said he believes it is time to "move on."

Lanzotti predicted the city's battle against the deer population is far from over.

"This is a problem that will have to be dealt with year after year," he said. "Because the deer population's biology will continue to make the problem grow."

A winter survey of Cape Girardeau's whitetail deer population presented to the city council in early March found an average density of 37 deer per square mile -- an amount the Missouri Department of Conservation said is similar to densities seen elsewhere in the state where communities have taken action to reduce the herd.

During December, January and February, the department conducted the survey by choosing two routes through the city and counting deer during four night outings. Data collected during the outings were analyzed by Blake McCann, a biology professor at Southeast Missouri State University.

Matt Bowyer, a conservation department wildlife biologist the council on March 4 the department keeps three numbers in mind when looking at survey results: a 20-deer-per-square-mile "optimal" density, a 40-deer-per-square-mile social carrying capacity and a 60-deer-per-square-mile biological carrying capacity. The numbers indicate maximum capacity of deer per square mile for all three areas.

On average, the team saw 136 deer per outing between 7 and 10 p.m.

Bowyer advised council members the numbers indicate the local deer population is healthy and reproducing, but it poses a risk of causing detriment in areas populated by people.

Schneider hopes the council will continue to discuss the issue and remain open to alternatives for the sake of the resident safety.

"It's not just about damaged flowers and shrubs," she said. "It's about the automobile accidents these deer can cause."

In last Tuesday's election, "yes" votes to repeal the ordinance were 1,485, while "no" votes were 1,279. The vote marked the first time in the city's history an ordinance was repealed by referendum. Some bowhunting supporters were critical of the ballot wording.

srinehart@semissourian.com

388-3641

Pertinent address:

401 Independence St., Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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