Missoula eyes culling deer 

Missoula City Councilman Dick Haines is asking his peers and the public to weigh in on whether the Garden City needs to curb its deer population.

"Maybe it's time to do something about it before someone gets hurt," Haines says.

Council often hears complaints about deer snacking on veggie gardens and defecating on lawns. But urban deer, those that have lost their fear of people, can also be dangerous, says Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Regional Manager Mike Thompson.

Missoula's white-tailed and mule deer populations have not been counted. But Thompson says that wildlife managers know they are growing. Mule deer in particular are becoming increasingly habituated to city life. And they can be particularly stubborn. "They will defend their personal space."

In 2008, Helena created the first urban deer management plan in the state. Mark Lerum, a Helena police officer who oversees the program, says city officials there took action because they were worried about public safety.

"We've had quite a few people's dogs stomped to death," Lerum says. "We've also had people attacked."

Since 2008, Helena and FWP have annually evaluated how many animals should be taken to achieve an optimal population density of 25 deer per square mile. Police capture the designated number of deer in large metal traps that are placed on property belonging to cooperative private landowners. A bolt stunner gun, like those used in livestock operations, is used to euthanize the animals. Deer are butchered and the meat is donated to the local food bank, which pays for the processing costs.

Helena has captured 531 deer since fall 2008.

Haines says he isn't necessarily sold on Helena's plan or any other means to decrease Missoula's deer population. However, he says, "We want to hear what the public has to say."

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