Residents and Lakeway staff face off over deer management policies

Lakeway residents fill City Hall on Nov. 18 to hear a presentation on white-tailed deer management.

Lakeway residents fill City Hall on Nov. 18 to hear a presentation on white-tailed deer management.

Robin Davis, who has lived in Lakeway for the past 18 years, said she is concerned about the city’s deer management practices.


“I want a census count [of the number of deer within the city],” she said. “I think [city officials] are working to eradicate the deer.”


Davis joined other local homeowners at Lakeway City Hall on Nov. 18 to hear a seminar on white-tailed deer management by Jessica Alderson, an urban biologist with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, followed by a period of  public comment. The city’s deer management process is licensed by the TPWD.


In the 1900s, Texas deer were overharvested, or euthanized, resulting in low deer counts, Alderson said. Because the species is highly reproductive—giving birth to twins and triplets—and lacks predators, such as coyotes and bobcats, in city environments, the white-tailed deer
population in 2015 has proliferated to the point where they are living in urban areas. 


 

Deer naturally graze on forbs, or flowers, and grasses, Alderson said. When residents feed the deer, their nutrition suffers because they no longer hunt the natural foods they need.


“The Parks and Wildlife [Department] looks to Lakeway as the poster child for urban wildlife management,” Alderson said.


The city had an issue with an overpopulation of deer in the 1990s, she said. However, after implementing a deer management program, Lakeway’s deer issue is under control.


“We are never going to remove every single deer in the city,” Alderson said.


She said the city’s deer program—professionally trapping deer on-site, removing and euthanizing them, and donating the meat to local charities—is ongoing. LTW-2015-12-23-2


Residents voiced concern over the lack of studies done to confirm the area’s deer population, prompting the continuation of these management procedures, as well as the process used to trap the deer.


“Is it possible to pause what we are doing right now and take a step back to consider what the residents of Lakeway want?” resident Tiffany McMillan said. “We understand we need a management plan. There are also so many available opportunities that are humane, that would be more reflective of what we as a community want and need.”


Trapper James Bonds, who contracts with the city of Lakeway for deer management, said nets are dropped electronically to capture deer. The nets are set from October to March to avoid catching fawns that are born at other times of the year. He said their antlers are cut off in order to move the deer to a truck to be transported for euthanization. Lake Travis | Westlake Government


Lakeway trapped 125 deer in 2013-14 at a cost of $28,353, City Manager Steve Jones said. The city has a permit with TPWD for its deer management program and, under this permit, is limited to trapping 250 deer annually.

“Our main goal is to have a healthy deer population and to minimize the negative impacts on our residents,” he said. “We don’t have a number [to trap].”


Jones said city staffers were told by a TPWD biologist that a census of the deer population will not provide reliable information in an urban environment. He said the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s wildlife management service can perform a census at the agency’s expense but would need to create and implement the protocol for an urban deer census. He said the USDA will get back to city staff with a response in January. 


“If we can come up with a good protocol [for a deer census] that will give us some good information, we will consider it,” Jones said.






Urban deer management options


Nonlethal:


Fences




  • Deterrents/sprays found in nurseries

  • Habitat modification (change deer environment to make it less attractive)

  • Trap, transport and transplant deer to another venue or ranchland

  • Fertility control (inject deer with contraceptive)


Lethal:




  • TTP: Trap, transport and process deer, donating meat to local food banks

  • Individual hunting: organized archery hunts or sharpshooters