Urban wildlife raise safety and environmental concerns in New Braunfels

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Following a six-month grace period, enforcement of an ordinance that prohibits feeding wildlife inside New Braunfels city limits begins March 10.

After holding two public meetings in February and April 2018 with the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, City Council passed the ordinance in September.

“At that time, we definitely had a lot of folks coming out to speak for and against the ordinance,” Mark Enders, the city’s watershed program manager, said.

The passing of the wildlife-feeding ordinance follows the finalization of the city’s watershed protection plan, which received approval from the Environmental Protection Agency in September. According to Enders, part of the plan includes reducing urban wildlife populations.

Concerns related to deer and waterfowl, including increased auto accidents and declining water quality, are cited as top reasons for why the city says the ordinance is necessary, officials said.

While some New Braunfels residents see a need for the new regulations, Justin Botter is among citizens who do not support them.

“Education is imperative in making sure the public knows what our local wildlife can and cannot eat, but government intervention is not necessary at all,” Botter said. “… I agree—we need to ensure not just the safety of animals, our rivers and vehicular traffic, but making it a criminal act is just government overreach.”

Botter added he feels the ordinance is a waste of time and resources.

“So are we going to designate officers to work at [Landa] Park and on the hill to watch for feeding?” he said.

Enders said costs associated with wildlife-management education and signage are largely supported through grant funding from the EPA through the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. The city also has budgeted $25,000 for implementation of wildlife-management activities in fiscal year 2018-19.

“For generations, folks have been coming down and feeding the ducks in Landa Park, so it’s certainly going to be a culture change and a challenge to educate the folks coming in from out of the city,” Enders said.

According to Enders, signage is expected to be installed prior to the enforcement start date.

Water-quality concerns

In August, Environment Texas Research and Policy Center released a study that analyzes bacteria pollution in the Gulf beach and the state’s lakes, rivers and streams. The data includes water sample testing results from 2017.

According to Executive Director Luke Metzger, 40 percent of the testing sites in New Braunfels had unsafe levels of bacteria. The Dry Comal Creek had exceedances in three out of eight tests, and Alligator Creek had exceedances in one out of three tests.

“We should be able to expect that all of our waterways, including those that run through our cities and communities, are clean and free from dangerous pollution,” Metzger said in a statement. “But the fact is that many of the state’s rivers, lakes, and beaches are sometimes too polluted to go swimming, tubing or wading safely.”

According to TPWD, the Dry Comal Creek was initially placed on a state impaired water body list in 2010 because samples exceeded the state water-quality standard for bacteria. Two Texas A&M laboratory bacteria source-tracking analysis studies that were conducted in 2013 and 2016 determined up to 70 percent of the E. coli bacteria are from wildlife.

In addition to the feeding ordinance, Enders said the city is trapping and relocating non-native waterfowl, such as Egyptian geese, from Landa Park with the assistance of a professional wildlife-trapping consultant.

The city will also be working with a consultant to oil-coat the eggs of nonnative waterfowl in Landa Park, which prevents hatching. The initiative will be funded by the city’s watershed protection plan grant.

Deer danger

Jessica Alderson, an urban biologist with TPWD, addressed citizens at an April public meeting. She estimates there are 4.23 million white-tailed deer in Texas. She said the species thrives in urban communities because they are highly reproductive, receive supplemental feeding from residents, have a lack of predators and are illegal to hunt.

New Braunfels Animal Control Services data shows deer-related auto collisions in New Braunfels have increased in recent years. From 2017-18, accidents involving deer increased from 528-632.

Accidents with deer have a significant economic impact as well. According to national data from State Farm, the average cost of deer-related collision claims in 2017 was $4,179, and 1 in 270 drivers are probable to have the experience nationwide. Enders said the risk is significantly higher in New Braunfels with 1 in 137 drivers probable to have an auto collision with a deer.

Impact on animals

Another concern cited by Alderson is the health of the animals. In deer, mouth ulcers and abscesses can flare up from eating hard food that can scrape the mouth. The mouths of the animals can also be injured when they eat from a hard driveway or street.

“It tastes good to them, so they’re going to spend their time eating that not knowing it’s going to eventually lead them to be sick and malnourished,” Alderson said, adding that deer are also more likely to  get their antlers entangled in fences and other items in urban areas.

Disease among the animals is another concern. Chronic wasting disease, or CWD, is a fatal condition that is present in deer and causes weight loss, listlessness and other neurological symptoms.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports CWD is highly contagious among deer through contact with bodily fluids. Alderson said supplemental feeding in urban areas allows it to spread faster through nose-to-nose contact among animals and contact with infected soil.

“Another big concern is Lyme disease,” Alderson said.

Lyme disease can be transmitted to humans through infected deer ticks. According to the CDC, symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue and a skin rash. If left untreated, the infection can spread to the joints, heart and nervous system.

Alderson said experts are also seeing a trend in migratory birds that are not leaving New Braunfels, which interrupts the natural ecosystem. She attributes the issue to birds gaining too much weight to fly long distances as well as getting comfortable in a place where there is a steady supply of food.

Vultures

Adding to concerns about safety and water quality is the presence of vultures, which have been known to cause damage to park structures and cause unsanitary conditions for the city’s barbecue pits, play structures and picnic tables.

Because the birds are protected by a federal migratory bird act, Alderson said there are limited things municipalities can do to remove them. Using light and sound deterrents are among legal tactics to keep the birds away. Another repellent strategy is to hang dead decoy vultures from trees, a method Alderson said is unpopular but effective.

When vultures present negative impacts on parks or public health and safety, Alderson said permits may be obtained through the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife Service to remove and euthanize the birds.

Enders said the city is not pursuing a permit or other measures specific to addressing the vulture population.

Enforcing the regulations

Once enforcement begins, those in violation of the ordinance could receive a fine of $75-$500, but Enders said the city is focused more on educating the public about the reasons why they should avoid feeding wildlife.

“The ordinance is really set up to be kind of education-based,” Enders said. “It does call for penalties of violators of the ordinance, but we set it up to where any first offense would just be a warning.”

Exceptions to the rules

The wildlife-feeding ordinance allows for deviation in some circumstances.

A provision allows for the use of common bird feeders, but they must be suspended 5 feet above the ground.

It also exempts animal control officers; veterinarians; peace officers; city employees; or federal or state wildlife officials who are lawfully working to treat, manage, capture, trap, hunt or remove wildlife within his or her scope of authority.

The ordinance also does not apply to those with hunting land permits who set out feed for the purpose of baiting and attracting game animals. Residents may also feed domestic livestock or pets located on their property.

More information about the ordinance  can be found on the city’s website, www.nbtexas.org.

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4 comments
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  1. Too many deer in entire county. Need to include all of Comal county in this ordinance. Should consider sterilizing the bucks for a few years to reduce the population. 306 could be renamed Dead Deer Road!! The majority of people out here are feeders…some even let the deer into their HOMES!

  2. As usual flawed data in your story. Feces count changes in times of drought which your report did not mention. We all recognize that we have too many deer. This could have been stopped many years ago.maybe this study should include limiting the tubers and perhaps limiting grow of monstrous subdivisions at residents expense. All in all another wasteful column on what should be a wonderful paper..

    • AGREED, Mr. Hobbs. This City has become so money greedy, they obviously do not have the citizens best interest. Show me the statistics of “tourism” impacts of trash, accidents and crime, etc.

  3. Let’s regulate pesticides and runoff from farmers, before we go after deers. Feed the homeless and people on government assistance with em. Would that not help? Deer processing for people sucking are tax dollars. That might make em get a job. Just an idea.

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Rachel Nelson
Rachel Nelson is editor of the New Braunfels edition of Community Impact Newspaper. She covers local business, new development, city and county government, health care, education and transportation. Rachel relocated to Central Texas from Amarillo in 2009 and is a graduate of Texas State University's School of Journalism and Mass Communication.
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