To some east-bench residents, this new breed of transients is cute; to others frightening. They eat too much, have no regard for personal property, care little about boundaries, and often they are a hazard.
These new homeless are deer . . . four-legged, cow-eyed, big ears, dark gray coats, white rumps and stubby tails . . . bucks, does and fawns. Even though they are wild animals, they don't always act like it. They are wandering with increased boldness among homes and people and roadways.And because of it, these so-called "city deer" are a growing concern. They can't be herded, they can't be trapped and they can't be shot. But they do cause damage and they are a serious hazard to motorists.
What can be done about these nomadic deer? Nothing.
When snow begins to accumulate, "city deer" start showing up. They've learned that life in the big city can be pretty nice, certainly nicer than back in the hills. There's food and even some protection from the cold among all the buildings.
Why scrape and paw through deep snow on open hillsides after meager pickings of bitter brush or mahogany or cliff rose when growing in abundance among the homes in eastside neighborhoods are gardens of sweet-tasting plants, an occasional apple and every now and then a cube of sugar?
Actually, it's not so much a case of the deer moving down among the homes so much as it is the homes moving up among the deer. Those nice, high-priced view lots on the wind-swept hills and knolls along the Wasatch Front once held winter feed for deer. Now deer find only landscaped yards with different tasting plants - some they find very tasty.
Another reason for the growing concentration of "city deer" goes back to the state-directed feeding program in the winter of 1983-84. Brought down by an unusually harsh winter, deer learned about an easy source of food. Those deer have taught following generations about city life.
According to Grant Jense, assistant chief of big game for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, reactions to the deer have run the gamut. In most cases they start out being cute and intriguing. As they wander about, eating expensive trees, flowers and shrubs, and creating serious traffic hazards, they soon becomepests.
"We get people who call and want to know what to feed the deer, then we get others who call and are frightened to death of the deer. They can't handle a wild animal being in their yard. They'll lock themselves in rooms and we'll have to go up and chase the deer off before they'll come out. Then we get people who are angry because the deer are eating their plants and shrubs and want us to come up and do something about it.
"We got a call the other day from a man who wanted to know what he could do to keep the deer around until his relatives from California hit town, then he wanted them gone. Others call and are angry because neighbors are feeding the deer. Some don't care if deer eat their shrubs and plants, while others get very upset. Some want the deer fed, others want them moved. It's crazy."
According to information officers at the DWR, about 30 to 40 deer-related calls a day are coming in. Most of the callers are concerned about the health of the deer. They want the starving deer fed.
Jense says that the deer are not starving but are in good shape.
"It's too soon to consider a feeding program. We'll lose some deer, but we do every year. Winter loss is normal and necessary. Back in '83-'84 we started losing deer in December. Overall, the deer are in better shape than they were that year," he said.
Feeding the deer simply gets them in a habit of returning for easy handouts and causes them to abandon their natural food-gathering habits.
"Feeding isn't the answer, either. It creates more problems than it solves. Even though deer ate the pellets we fed them in '83-'84, many died during the transition back to natural forage in the spring."
Jense pointed out a case on the Heaston Mountains where sportsmen fed a small herd of elk in 1983-84. "The next year a few more showed up and the next a few more. Now we've got about 35 big bulls looking for easy food."
What to do with a hungry deer
The following steps may be taken to lessen the damage caused by deer eating yard plants and shrubs:
- Wrap all shrubs and bushes in burlap.
- A commercial spray called "Ropel" can be sprayed on plants to make them less inviting to deer.
- A similar spray can be made by mixing a raw egg in a blender with water. Then spray it on trees and shrubs.
- The DWR also has a list of ornamental trees, flowers and shrubs that are not eaten by deer in the winter. When planting or replacing plants, homeowners can pick from the list.
- But the only sure way of keeping deer and vegetation separated is to build a deer-proof fence around the property, something over 6 feet high.