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El Paso County to consider deer population-control strategies

December 7, 2017 Updated: December 8, 2017 at 6:10 am
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A buck sits outside the front door of a home in northwest Colorado Springs in November 2015. (Photo by Janelle Dam, The Gazette)

El Paso County is joining the conversation by Colorado Springs officials about controlling the deer population on the city's west side and other developed, wooded areas.

One option is urban hunting, which would let licensed archers hunt in certain areas.

That controversial method has proved an efficient and affordable way to pare down deer populations and reduce conflicts between people and deer in some rural Colorado communities, said Frank McGee, a wildlife manager with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, at the county commissioners' regular meeting Thursday.

"Ultimately, it's going to be up to the city and the county to decide what they want to do about the number of deer they have," McGee said after the meeting. "We're trying to present them all of the information."

City Councilmen Andy Pico, Don Knight and Merv Bennett have discussed that idea with McGee and will meet with him again in January to weigh approaches and their costs.

The councilmen also are considering hiring professional hunters to cull the herds, euthanizing or sterilizing the deer or moving them. While volunteers would undertake urban hunting for free, the other options range from $350 to $3,000 per deer, according to McGee.

"I want to make sure both city and county come up with a plan that absolutely works and is compatible," said Darryl Glenn, president of the Board of County Commissioners. "I'm not willing to eliminate any options. I think we need to explore all of them."

Parks and Wildlife estimates parts of the city have 20 deer per square mile, compared with two to three per square mile in undeveloped mountainous regions.

"Having that many deer in town has a lot of consequences," McGee said.

The animals can damage vehicles and injure or kill people when they dart into roads and cause crashes. Bucks that amble into urban areas during mating season can be aggressive, McGee said, noting that a woman was severely injured by a buck this fall in Black Forest.

High deer populations in tight spaces also lure predators such as mountain lions and bears into neighborhoods, he said.

Overpopulation is detrimental to the animals, too, McGee said. Fawns are orphaned when their mothers are killed in collisions, and diseases spread easily among deer crowded into one area, he said.

Deer also can become caught in fences or entrapped by other man-made structures, McGee said.

Wednesday, Parks and Wildlife officers spent hours trying to rescue a buck that got stuck in a culvert during a spar with another buck the night before.

Salida, Buena Vista and Elizabeth allow "urban" hunting, McGee said, though the communities are rural.

At the Air Force Academy, a limited number of hunters are allowed in every season, accompanied by a guide.

Citizens cite safety concerns with urban hunting. Parks and Wildlife said about 30 percent of people at a meeting two years ago preferred hunting to other population-control options, however.

Commissioner Stan VanderWerf said he's not opposed to the idea.

"Before I'd say yes to it, I'd want to make sure that I'm convinced it will be safe."

Officials might consider allowing the practice only on large private properties or in city or county open spaces that are closed during a certain time, McGee said.

"It's hard to speculate on what it might look like," he said.

Pico, Bennett and Knight have expressed some support for urban hunting. Council President Richard Skorman said he would rather euthanize the deer as a more humane approach. Many city residents have voiced strong opposition to urban hunting.

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The Gazette's Conrad Swanson contributed to this report.

Contact Rachel Riley: 636-0108

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