Archive for Monday, December 11, 2000

Deer population in KC not as gentle as Bambi

Conservationists, city officials disagree on method of control

December 11, 2000


— They destroy greenery and pose serious traffic hazards, but just try and shoot one without seriously upsetting somebody.

Whitetail deer might be a problem in suburbia, but they have their passionate defenders people who enjoy watching deer, don't want them harmed and even tolerate damage to their trees and yards.

Wildlife experts call it the "Bambi Complex": the image of the lovable, peaceful deer driven into the collective subconscious by years of exposure to the Walt Disney animated classic.

But deer bring more than a glimpse of wild beauty to the suburbs. They also bring healthy appetites.

In western Shawnee, Kan., on the edge of the metropolitan area, expanding herds have destroyed up to $50,000 worth of trees at Hermes Nursery.

"Down at Riss Lake at Parkville, people have given up having any ornamental shrubs because the deer eat them or the bucks rub them with their antlers and kill them," said Doug Yeager, Missouri Department of Conservation agent.

Far more serious is the danger suburban deer pose to motorists. Last week, for example, a Shawnee police officer had to shoot a deer when it hit the side of a school bus.

"Deer love the Kansas City area because there's a lot of food and a lot of woods," said Capt. Chris Ricks of the Missouri Highway Patrol. "But with all that traffic in the area where they live, it makes for some good crashes."

Jackson County led Missouri in deer-vehicle collisions in 1999 with 368, according to the patrol. Platte County was fourth, and Clay County fifth with 202 and 196 accidents, respectively. Kansas City led all Missouri cities with 326 accidents; Lee's Summit was second with 58, and Independence was fifth with 52.

Johnson County had the second-highest number of deer-vehicle accidents in Kansas last year with 367, second only to Shawnee County with 369, the Kansas Department of Transportation reports.

Cities are wrestling with how to control deer populations, including whether to hold controlled hunts in rural or undeveloped areas within city limits.

Critics say hunting is barbaric and cite safety concerns in opposition to gun or bow hunting. Supporters say it's crueler to allow overpopulated herds to die of disease and starvation.

"The worst-case scenario is when deer herds become a social dividing issue in a community," said Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks biologist Lloyd Fox. "Landowners become agitated, polarized and deadlocked. And if you delay action long enough, management becomes impossible."

Deer overpopulation has not yet reached a crisis point.

"But this issue is not going to go away," said Mike Ray, Johnson County superintendent of park safety and interpretation. "Politicians at some point need to deal with our growing deer herds."

Lenexa, Kan., officials discussed deer hunting in a work session Tuesday. Shawnee is considering a plan that would allow limited bow hunting in certain areas.

Parkville recently enacted codes that allow hunting on farms of 10 acres or larger, an appeasement to those living on rural lands annexed Nov. 7.

Kansas City's animal control unit picks up 200 deer a year that are killed or injured by cars. More are picked up by conservation agents.

Kansas City has vast open territory north of the Missouri River, where deer hunting is illegal but still occurs. Codes are difficult to enforce because the large tracts make it difficult to patrol, police say.

The Missouri Department of Conservation would like Kansas City to consider legalizing bow hunting in rural areas to help control deer herds, said Laurie Brown, an urban wildlife biologist.

To reduce deer problems near cities, the department has an urban deer zone where bow hunters can kill up to seven deer a season within any city that allows hunting.

Alternatives such as birth control are impractical in areas where deer roam over large landscapes, Brown said. Sharpshooters can be effective in limited areas for short periods. But over large areas during long periods they would be expensive and ineffective, she said.

Firearm hunting within Kansas City is not feasible, but archery might be, said Jim Silke, a police crime analyst for the North Patrol Division.

Bow hunting in Kansas City's rural areas wouldn't solve all the problems but would be a cost-free way to minimize damage done by deers, Brown said.

"It's better than the deer being hit by vehicles or seeing them all die from disease or starvation," she said.

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