St. Louis-area town culls growing deer population

Thursday, December 17, 2009 | 4:57 p.m. CST; updated 5:05 p.m. CST, Thursday, December 17, 2009

TOWN AND COUNTRY — For many years, deer and people have been an uncomfortable mix in the St. Louis suburb of Town and Country. Town leaders are hopeful their latest effort to reduce the deer population helps solve the long-standing problem.

The town of 11,000 residents is among the wealthiest in Missouri, and the large yards and open spaces of Town and Country are attractive to deer.

Some residents don't mind — they enjoy seeing the graceful animals. But the deer eat up vegetation, scare pets and cause numerous accidents. Alderman Fred Meyland-Smith said Thursday that over the past five years, on average, one deer per week has been killed by a car in Town and Country.

So town leaders hired a Connecticut firm, White Buffalo, for a two-pronged project that called for some deer to be shot and others to be trapped and sterilized. Meyland-Smith said sharpshooters killed 110 deer in the program that ended Wednesday, and 100 were sterilized. The project cost $150,000.

"There are people who oppose the program," said Meyland-Smith, who chaired the task force that for more than two years has focused on reducing the deer population. "But let's not allow emotion to cloud facts and reality. The fact is, these are wild animals and they are not personal pets."

Critics of the program blame people, not the deer, for encroaching into wildlife habitat as urban populations continue to sprawl. Many people in Town and Country say that despite the nuisance, deer should not be killed.

"In the first place they put it off too long, and in the second place they should have just doubled the sterilization method," said Ben McDavid, 68, a Town and Country resident who opposed the program. "I think it's uncalled for to kill deer in a populated area. Of course people had problems, but we learned to live with it."

Town and Country is far from alone. Many other communities in Missouri and elsewhere are dealing with too many deer.

Jason Sumners, a deer biologist for the Missouri Department of Conservation, said several communities now allow bow-hunting to reduce the deer population. Springfield just passed an archery ordinance. Columbia, Jefferson City and Moberly in mid-Missouri allow it, as do Wildwood and Chesterfield in St. Louis County. Shawnee Mission, Kan., a suburb of Kansas City, recently used sharpshooters to remove more than 300 deer.

Sumners said most wildlife experts now believe that controlled hunts or use of sharpshooters provide the most humane way to reduce deer populations. In years past, some communities, including Town and Country in the late 1990s, tried to capture and relocate deer.

But the high-strung animals become so stressed that they develop an affliction called capture myopathy, which often causes a slow and painful death.

"They just fatigue out and aren't able to recover from it," Sumners said.

Meyland-Smith isn't sure if Town and Country will continue its shoot-and-sterilize program in 2010. Right now, no funding is budgeted.

"There are still deer on the streets of Town and Country," Meyland-Smith said. "But I'm enormously pleased with what we were able to do."

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