John George, a natural history biologist with the Missouri Department of Conservation, sees the overpopulation of Columbia’s urban deer population as something that can’t be ignored.
“There’s a trend here, and it’s not going away,” George said during a presentation he made to members of the Columbia City Council before its Monday meeting.
With herd numbers on the rise in Columbia and elsewhere, urban deer are infamous for destroying gardens and spreading disease. George said one of the biggest problems is deer-related automobile accidents, as well as the roadkill that often comes as a result.
According to the Missouri Insurance Coalition, the average repair cost for a car damaged in a deer-related accident is $2,000. Those accidents also mean the conservation department has to pick up about 100 carcasses every year, George said, “and that’s not including what the city as well as private citizens pick up.”
In an effort to tackle these problems, George and other representatives from the department met with the City Council and laid out options for
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reducing the city’s deer population. By spring or summer, George and other department representatives hope the council will form a subcommittee to deal with the urban deer problem.
“We want to try to find the best option to obtain a suitable number of deer in Columbia,” said Tom Strother, a protection regional supervisor with the department.
One possibility, George said, is informing residents about the option of hunting for deer removal on their own property. Bow hunting is allowed within city limits during the open season, which began last week and goes until Nov. 14, then reopens from Nov. 25 through Jan. 15.
Bow hunters Garrett Benskin, Keith Henry and Ryan Bohrer said it’s hard to persuade property owners to allow hunting on their land. Benskin explained that people don’t understand how beneficial it is but that informing residents would be a major step.
“When we go hunting, we’re not just having fun and putting food on our tables,” he said. “We’re also keeping deer off highways and out of yards.”
Another option is hiring sharpshooters to bait and kill deer — something Boonville has done two of the past five years. Sharpshooters quickly and dramatically decrease deer populations, while bow hunting is a more moderate control method, George said.
Hunters like Bohrer, however, don’t see the need to hire marksmen when he and others are willing to help control the deer population for free.
“There are a huge amount of people willing to hunt,” Bohrer said. “I don’t see why they need to pay money to hire sharpshooters when we’ll do it at no charge to the city.”
Strother said there are a number of other population-control possibilities beyond those raised at the meeting. Anything to control the doe population, he said, is a huge step because it cuts down on the number of births. One example is the state’s new deer hunting regulations, which allow for unlimited tags on does.