By Dean Michael
Via Wyoming News Exchange
RAWLINS — The wandering deer have garnered two opinions in their decades of city living, both equally dedicated to their cause and the annihilation of the other.
Detractors argue the unchecked hordes of deer are nothing more than pests to the hard work of every homeowner and a threat to every driver on Rawlins’ roadways. Opponents of the rampant deer population further argue the hordes of deer are threats to the health of the city’s domesticated animals.
The second views the wandering herds as a majestic symbol of Wyoming’s rugged nature and freedom from the cramped and crowded living of population centers. Many further argue watching a deer wander through the neighborhood during a morning cup of coffee is a tourist attraction.
The years of dedicated work from the city to curb the stray dog population has left the city’s deer without anything resembling a natural predator left the more than 285 deer fearless. Though a violation of city ordinances, the practice of feeding deer has further assisted in the hordes of deer losing their natural fears.
“They’re not scared of us, they really aren’t,” said Troy Palmer, Rawlins Police Chief.
These two factors, combined with the endless food of manicured lawns, has ballooned the deer population, while also removing their instincts to flee approaching vehicles and humans.
With the intensely opposite views in mind, Rawlins city council considered how best to accommodate both concerns during their April 16 workshop. The discussion began with a presentation by Diana Espy and Troy Palmer, members of the Urban Mule Deer Advisory Committee, as they presented the data of deer and human conflicts over the past several years.
According to the committee, the deer of Rawlins are stationary and have inhabited the town’s lawns and greenery for decades and do not migrate outside city limits.
The first statistic that shed light on the lives of Rawlins deer, beyond the range of their migration, was their main cause of mortality: collision with a motor vehicle accounting for 44.7 percent of the 273 deer fatalities since 2013.
More than 41 percent of the deaths of deer were categorized as unknown, drawing questions from the council. Greg Hiatt, wildlife biologist from the Game and Fish, explained the designation is given when no cause of death is obvious. While a simple enough explanation, Hiatt further stated the city has so many potential causes of death that even venturing a guess at the cause will likely yield inaccurate results.
Of all the deer lost to the various deaths a cityscape offers, only a dozen have tested for chronic wasting disease, estimated Hiatt. As the Game and Fish only keeps records of positive disease tests, the number of tested animals could only be guessed from memory, but the amount of positive tests was able to be named without issue. Three Rawlins deer have been tested positive for chronic wasting disease since 2013. Given the small sample size, however, the actual number of inflicted could be much higher or lower.
With these numbers in hand, the Urban Mule Deer Advisory Committee recommended removing an undetermined percentage of the population at night, near the edges of city limits under the supervision of Wyoming Game and Fish.
The cost for such a venture: $16,121 to $22,992 for the first year, with the price of subsequent years’ cost dropping to $6,971 to $13,742, depending on the amount of deer culled. This will likely increase as the city council wanted more testing of these animals.
The majority of the budget stems from man-hours, but one item in the equipment expenses may catch the eye of many: $5,000 on new weapons.
These weapons would be “hunting-style rifles” with a suppressor, as the police fear public outrage should they use the AR-style rifles already issued to them to deal with situations requiring lethal force.
The swirl of uncertainty over how many to kill broke with the suggestion of culling 25-30 females to limit population growth in the future, removing roughly 10 percent of the current population as well as limit next year’s fawn population as mule deer usually has two fawns.
“The true test will be, are we having less complaints, are the deer acting like deer?” said City Manager Scott Hannum.
“It’s going to be trial and error,” said Espy.
Should this number prove inadequate to reduce human confrontation, the law allows for the city to adjust the number of culled animals every year.
The date for such killings would be this November, as the Game and Fish would no longer be on patrol for hunting season.
The hunts would take place at night and on the outskirts of town, though no culling field locations will be pursued until the council makes their decision.
“We don’t want to take them while kids are at school. We want to do quietly,” said RPD Sgt. Chris Gulbrandson, “So as not to disrupt a lot of people.”