Let Bowhunters Solve ‘Deer Problem’

By Beacon Staff

In January, I wrote a column about the most expensive deer in the world, which happen to be running around my house in Helena. I concluded, conservatively, that killing these deer cost $2,000 or more per animal. Out of the comment section came the question: What would be a more cost-effective option?

Since then, I’ve been checking around on what’s happening in other cities, and I have the answer.

To recap, Helena plans to dispatch police officers to bait deer into clover traps, kill them with bolt guns (what they use to kill cattle in slaughterhouses), killing 50 adult does and bucks and releasing the Bambis. The police also arrange for field dressing and skinning the animals before turning them over to Helena Food Share.

In addition to the $65,000 already spent on surveys, plans and staff time – partially license dollars from the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) and the rest from city general funds – the city has appropriated another $30,000 to cover police staff time, equipment, field dressing and skinning, and other administrative expenses.

If you read that last column, you know I’m choking on the extraordinarily high expense for this deer execution, especially since some of it comes from hunting license dollars, which smacks of an illegal diversion of earmarked money. Now, I’m also choking on the concept of police officers baiting and executing those massive bucks and basically wasting a public wildlife resource that bowhunters could utilize at no cost to license buyers or city taxpayers.

Even scarier, the FWP considers the Helena plan a “pilot program” that could set a precedent for future operations in Helena and other cities, not just in Montana. If this bad idea spreads, we’ll be wasting thousands of deer throughout the New West instead of making them a new hunting opportunity. We need new hunting opportunity to replace all we’re losing.

I have to believe hunters everywhere must also be choking on the idea of their wildlife agency condoning such a plan when bowhunters could safely and inexpensively solve the “deer problem” and not waste this public resource. Indeed, Gary Carvajal, president of the Montana Bowhunters Association, has been following the issue and told NewWest.Net that his organization is “interested in helping Helena and the FWP commission solve this problem.”

Having a local bowhunters group involved is key because in many cities these volunteer organizations have signed on to manage the urban deer hunt on behalf of the state wildlife agency and city government. Two great examples are the Metro Bowhunters Resource Base in Minneapolis-St. Paul and Arrowhead Bowhunters Alliance in Duluth, Minnesota. Bismarck, North Dakota, has also been using bowhunting for 21 years to keep its urban deer herd in check.

These cities effectively, inexpensively and safely employ bowhunters to reduce urban deer herds. Hunters take care of the meat, not police officers who should be out busting criminals instead of baiting deer.

Both the city of Helena and FWP are saying, in essence, we have to do something even if it’s wrong. I say, this is Montana, a state rich in hunting heritage. As hunters, let’s make sure the Helena plan is a step in the right direction in line with our hunting tradition, not a step in the wrong direction by setting a bad precedent for wasting game animals.

And why only 50 deer? Helena has 700 deer living in town, and that population grows by more than 50 deer per year, so if we go ahead with the current plan, even after wasting all this money and this public resource, we’ll be further behind the curve in 2009. Let bowhunters harvest several hundred deer, reducing the population to a level established by FWP. Then set quotas for the future like any other hunting district.

Incidentally, you may be asking, isn’t there a state law prohibiting hunting within city limits. Yes, but North Dakota and other states have the same law. Bismarck gets around this by selling “trespass permits,” which serve the purpose of “city deer tags.” If this approach won’t work in Montana, I doubt the Legislature would resist making an exception – as long as it didn’t tap hunting license money and was “revenue neutral.” Going for new legislation might delay Helena’s hunt, but more delay still trumps allowing an embarrassing precedent.

The only way it can be “revenue neutral,” incidentally, is to allow bowhunters to volunteer to do the job.

The FWP has approved the 50-deer execution and is currently preparing an Environmental Assessment (EA) on the plan, which the FWP Commission will review later this year. I hope commissioners recognize how far off track this plan has gotten and act quickly and aggressively to get back to representing hunters instead of city officials by requiring Helena to take a closer look and using bowhunting to manage its urban deer herd. I also hope the bowhunters offer to manage the hunt, or if city leaders insist on using the police department, at least help set up a Bismarck-like operation.

So, hunters, we can still stop this fiasco. We only need three members of the five-member FWP Commission to stand up for hunting. Encourage your commissioners to act forcefully to continue our hunting tradition. Instead of paving over the problem with money, let hunters take care of it for nothing.