Urban Deer Panic

By Beacon Staff

Despite my fatigue, I tossed and turned last night. Sleep eluded me and anxiety persisted, as I worried about how the city of Helena plans to handle its problem with urban deer. Some Montana cities grapple with growth, others with taxes or poverty or drug abuse. But in Montana’s capital city, the panic over urban deer exceeds Missoula’s nervousness over the impending arrival of the Hell’s Angels. A little perspective is in order.

What’s more puzzling than Helena’s anxiety over their urban deer problem is the inordinate amount of attention it gets, particularly when the urban deer problem in other Montana urban areas is just as bad. In Missoula’s university district at the base of Mt. Sentinel, from what I’ve seen, the deer are more ornery and invade the neighborhoods surrounding the University of Montana in greater numbers.

Yet just this week, a brief story about the need for visitors to the state capitol building to avoid feeding fawns they may encounter turned up in virtually every newspaper in the state. Is this really statewide news? (I similarly wonder why every time someone involved with the Montana Meth Project sneezes, it’s front-page news all over the state).

I understand the problems and hazards that urban deer pose. While covering the 2007 Legislature, there were many icy mornings where, trudging across the lawn to the Capitol, I watched deer stumble into the street, causing traffic to swerve and slide dangerously down the hill. It was scary and it happened frequently.

But I also remember the Helena Independent Record, that same winter, running a three-part investigative series on urban deer and how they were dealt with in similar communities. It was good journalism, but I couldn’t help but be a little surprised by how much attention this particular problem garners.

On the flip side, during my four months living in Helena, I found it be a safe, family-oriented town with a great brewery and an extensive network of biking trails accessible from town. I guess if Bambi is the biggest problem they town has to contend with, they must be doing something right.

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