HIGHLAND — Highland may soon allow deer hunting within city limits to control a pesky deer population that is damaging landscaping and causing traffic concerns on city roadways.
Both Bountiful and Highland have partnered with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources to implement a two-year pilot program to discover the best way to address a decade-long problem of growing deer-resident conflicts in urban areas.
Bountiful began the program in 2011 but has discontinued its hunts, citing conflict with residents and insufficient resources and manpower to manage the program with DWR.
Highland, however, could give the OK to hunters as soon as next month if it can work out details with DWR officials.
The plan: an archery hunt.
“We actually encourage and do anything we can to help deer be successful in their population to thrive and grow in mountain ranges and other deer habitat, but within cities it causes a problem obviously because of damage caused in residential property and the public safety dangers of deer on the highways,” said Bill Bates, DWR’s wildlife section chief.
Deer on the rise
Bates said conflicts between urban residents and deer have increased roughly 30 percent during the past 10 years. He said while wild deer populations have stayed steady where hunting is allowed, deer herds are flourishing in urban areas, especially as the resident deer — deer that live in the cities year round — reproduce. There are currently about 320,000 deer in Utah, he said.
Highland Mayor Lynn Ritchie said he gets about 50 calls a year from residents complaining about the deer and the calls have increased during the past decade.
The Highland City Council voted this week to submit the Highland Urban Deer Control Plan to the Division of Wildlife Resources for a certificate of registration, said Highland City Council member Tim Irwin. Once the city receives the certificate and program plans are solidified, Highland’s first controlled deer hunt can take place.
“We’ll look at the number of deer, we’ll tell (hunters) how many deer they can remove and what season dates, and just make sure they are doing it according to state law,” Bates said. “If it falls within those parameters, then I’m fairly confidant it’ll be approved.”
Bates said a small group of experienced bow hunters would then be selected to participate in the program after passing a shooting proficiency test and demonstrating responsible understanding of the program’s rules.
Hunters would be certified as “urban bow hunting specialists,” according to the proposal. Brian Cook, owner of Humphries Archery in American Fork, will serve as the program coordinator and will be responsible for selecting the hunters.
If the program passes DWR approval, the certified archers will then be allowed to shoot deer during a specified period of time, starting perhaps at the end of August. Hunters will be directed to designated areas where the deer will be baited. Hunters would have the option of using tree stands to obtain clear fields of view, Bates said.
Why bow hunting?
Bates said bow hunting was chosen for the program because of its reputation for safety, and its efficiency in killing game in a discreet way.
“Bow and arrow we just felt was the safest and most appropriate way to go forward,” Irwin said. “There are some people that are concerned about (public safety) but the professional groups that we’re using are licensed, professional, expert bow hunters, so I think we’re in good shape.”
The DWR will analyze the results of the hunt to determine future policies regarding urban deer population control, Bates said. A handful of other Utah cities that face similar deer population challenges are interested in Highland’s plan and may consider implementing similar programs depending on the results, he said.
Bates said in previous years, the DWR partnered with Bountiful to find ways to control the deer population. But the program is now managed and carried out by city officials themselves.
Irwin said hunters will pay a $50 certification fee to participate and help offset the $40 fee per animal the city will pay to process the deer for consumption and donation to a local food bank.
While some residents welcome the eradication of the garden-munching deer, others have concerns.
“I think it sounds highly dangerous,” Highland resident Judy Fluckiger said. “We’ve got a lot of little kids in this area, and I don’t think I would like anybody out shooting bows.”
To give residents a chance to voice their opinions, Highland officials have organized a public open house at Highland City Hall on July 30 from 5 to 7:30 p.m.
“We want to be as transparent as possible,” Irwin said. “We’d like the residents to understand and know what’s going on within Highland, their own city, and so we felt that would be a good way to get input, and if there are concerns, then we’ll hear them.”
City officials will then finalize the details of the program at an Aug. 6 City Council meeting, and if the plans adhere to DWR requirements, the program will begin at the end of August.
“We’re all anxious to see how successful it is,” Bates said. “It’s going to take a lot of effort to make this program successful and so the cooperation between the cities, the division, law enforcement and the residents of the area is imperative to making it successful. So people should work closely with their city officials to help design a program that will work for them.”