Helena police would be allowed to remove up to 200 urban deer between this coming Jan. 1 and March 31 under a proposal given initial approval Thursday by the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission.
The city also would be allowed to trap and shoot deer beginning Nov. 15 next year, as part of the effort to fill the quota and reduce the number of urban deer.
Last year, they were authorized by FWP to take out 200 deer, but a mild winter, a late start and other factors made it more difficult to lure deer into the traps and they only removed 105.
“We hope to get started earlier this year to improve the take,” said Mark Lerum with the Helena Police Department.
It costs about the city about $15,000 for the entire operation, including a late-summer deer census and overtime for Helena police officers who chose the extra duty.
“You have done an outstanding job,” Commissioner Bob Ream told Lerum. “You’ve carried this out humanely with very little reaction that I have heard about.”
An estimated 377 mule deer live in Helena, and while they’re popular among many Helena residents, they’re also a dangerous nuisance at times. In the spring, does can become assertive when people are around their fawns; in the fall, bucks going into the rut have been known to chase residents. They’ve also destroyed gardens, caused accidents and may draw predators into city streets and yards.
The goal is to reduce their numbers down to about 25 deer per square mile.
George Pauley with FWP noted that there could be up to 470 urban deer in Helena, and even if the quota is filled the does also will be giving birth to fawns in the spring, which will again boost their population.
This will be the third year that Helena police have set up traps in people’s yards and used bait to lure the deer. The captured deer are shot in the early morning hours with bolt guns, and then are processed by a butcher and taken to Helena Food Share.
So far, 530 deer have been removed, and Food Share has redistributed more than 1 ton of venison to low-income families.
The off-season deer are processed by Tizer Meats at a discounted price for the food pantry. It’s all made into burger — as are animals donated to the food bank by hunters — to keep processing costs down, and made available to area individuals and families.
However, Ann Waickman, executive director of Helena Food Share, said that even with the discount rate, it’s still expensive to process the deer and they’re appealing to the public for cash donations to offset the cost.
“Two hundred deer will be an interesting challenge,” Waickman said. "We are like a small business, and like any business are facing an ongoing economic challenge.”
She noted that on a regular day they see 140 households, and that the venison is quite popular. Waickman added that hunters sometimes donate meat, and she’s hoping that more of them will pay for the processing, which also will help out Food Share.
No members of the public commented at Thursday’s FWP Commission meeting, but the Montana FWP will accept public comment on the proposal until 5 p.m. on Dec. 17, with final action expected by the commission at its Dec. 20 meeting. The state agency will release information on how to comment on the proposal later this week.
Reporter Eve Byron: 447-4076 or email@example.com
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