HIGHLAND — Highland residents may soon notice fewer deer traipsing through their yards, trampling their tulip beds and darting across the highway.
The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources approved a two-year pilot program for Highland that allows expert archers to go out and hunt deer within the city. Highland started the urban deer-hunting program two weeks ago in an effort to control the city’s disruptive and destructive deer population.
About eight years ago, a bad winter drew the deer down from the mountains, and when spring came, they just stayed in the city, said Highland Mayor Lynn Ritchie. The steady increase in deer population since that winter has created a two-fold problem.
“They’re feeding on neighbors’ shrubs and gardens and destroying the gardens,” Ritchie said. “And then we’ve noticed an increase in the number of deer that have been hit by automobiles on the busy highway. Timpanogos Highway goes right through the middle of our city, so that’s a major problem there.”
Jeannine Savage, a Highland resident, said she and her neighbors have deer in their yards all the time and she is fine with the city hunt.
“We had 10 (deer) traipse through our yard last Christmastime, and they were eating our bushes, which bothers me because we had just bought the bushes and planted them,” Savage said.
Out of the estimated 300 deer in the city, 15 have been killed so far. Ritchie said the city hopes archers will be able to take as many as 100 this year. Next year’s hunting season in the city will be Aug. 1 through Oct. 31.
Brian Cook of Humphries Archery is coordinating the hunters. So far about 12 trained archers have gone through a certification process for the hunt. The hunting happens somewhat randomly, as the unpaid archers go out whenever they have time in their schedules. They hunt alone on tree stands in places the deer commonly travel.
“This archery program, we believe, is tremendously successful,” Ritchie said. “They’re expert archers, and they have the equipment. They are able to do it very cost effectively. It’s easy.”
Hunters can keep the deer by law. However, if they don’t want it, the city will pay $40 to have it processed and then donate it to the food bank. Because the archers work for free, the processing fees are really the only significant cost incurred by the city.
Other options for deer removal were considered, but the archery program was decidedly most cost effective and safe. Alternatives are still on the back burner, but the city is fully behind the current deer hunt program for now.
According to Ritchie, most Highland residents are backing the program as well because they are tired of chomped-on tulips and destroyed shrubbery — not to mention the fact that hitting a deer can cause significant car damage.
“The only complaints we’ve had about the program are people who are ideologically opposed to taking animals, harvesting animals,” Ritchie said. “We’ve had far more people positive about doing the program and taking away the damage being caused.”
The mayor knows firsthand what kind of damage the deer can do. He’s counted as many as 19 behind his house at one time and quipped that he weeds his garden so the deer don’t have such a hard time finding the tomatoes.
“They’re very destructive,” Ritchie said. “I love animals too, but they need to be managed.”
Neighboring cities have deer control issues as well. Ritchie said mayors of six cities — Alpine, Cedar Hills, Lehi, Provo, Mapleton and American Fork — have contacted him and shown interest in implementing a similar urban hunting program in their own cities.