As the city of Lakeway nears the deadline of its moratorium on a controversial wildlife management program that traps deer within city limits and transports them for processing, officials are continuing their pursuit of a cohesive wildlife policy that would satisfy all stakeholders.
Lakeway’s Wildlife Advisory Committee continued that effort with two informational and input-seeking open houses Nov. 14 and 15.
Mayor Sandy Cox said that as the Jan. 31 deadline on the moratorium of the Trap, Transport and Process, or TTP, method of deer population control approaches—as does the expected December or January completion of a third professional census on the city’s deer population—it is important not only to educate residents on all facets of the issue, but also to gather input.
“The [open houses] are the first time we’re coming out to the community in any way, shape or form for them to be educated but then also to hear from them,” Cox said.
Lining the walls of a small room of the Lakeway Activity Center on Nov. 14 and 15 were several information stations that housed large posters containing bullet-pointed data sets on the city’s wildlife as well as blank sheets of paper for attendees to leave their own comments.
At one station, a poster showed where the most dead deer have been located from January 2017 to June 2019, with RM 620 having the most at 39. Another station highlighted deer census numbers from 2017 and 2018. Yet another large display was headlined “5 Reasons to not feed the deer.”
Based in part on feedback received from these open houses, as well as from professional input and census numbers, City Council will meet again in December or January to confer on the latest recommendations from the WAC, Cox said.
“The feedback from here is really important, so that’s why we’re encouraging people to come out and interact and tell us what they think,” she said.
WAC members agree there is much work to be done regarding the issue of deer control, especially as the Jan. 31 moratorium deadline on the program and the results of the deer census both draw nearer.
WAC member Joel Borden said Thursday night the deer herd has been “gathering speed” following the initial moratorium on the TTP program Aug 9, 2018.
“The more we do not do trapping or some form of disposal, it’s just going to keep growing,” Borden said,
WAC Chair Dennis Hogan said his committee has been working and “being schooled” on the city’s wildlife situation over the past several months. Hogan said he sees the open houses as one aspect of a multifaceted campaign to address an extremely complicated issue.
“When you’re dealing with wildlife, the wildlife don’t know anything about boundaries; they don’t care about time clocks,” Hogan said. “They eat, they procreate and they’re there.”
The key to properly ushering a successful wildlife program forward, Hogan said, is continually seeking input from and educating the public.
Ken Aldrich has lived in Lakeway since the '80s, and said at the open house that prior to the city’s implementation of the TTP in 1999, as many as 80 deer would congregate on his yard at times.
"They were trapping back then, and they’d drop the net two or three times in my backyard,” Aldrich said. “Those deer were so plentiful.”
Lakeway resident Jennie Tillman-Ford said she attended the open house Thursday night because she does not want the deer trapping program to be reimplemented. She said has attended all of the WAC meetings and has been keeping up with the issue and providing input.
“I just want humane actions to be taken, if they are even needed,” Tillman-Ford said. “I love the deer. If people would just slow down, they won’t hit the deer. People need to be educated on how to live with the deer and the wildlife.”
But many in the community feel the issue is more complicated than simply learning how to live with the deer. TPWD Game Warden Jeff Hill, who serves the Lakeway community as well as other areas in western Travis County, said the city’s deer population and the problems associated with it is currently the most pronounced of all the areas he oversees. Further complicating matters is how divisive the issue is, Hill said.
“It’s really hard to get a consensus between all the people on what the population solution is going to be, and that’s the biggest problem,” he said. “So I don’t know if there will ever be any solution to the problem if no one can agree on anything.”
Hill said it is ultimately up to the city of Lakeway to decide on a policy, and if that ends up being one that requires a permit from TPWD, such as the trap program, it will be up to him to enforce it.
Cox said members of the WAC could make policy recommendations to City Council as soon as December, but there is no concrete schedule yet.
“It depends on when they’re ready,” she said.