Sharpshooters thin Roseville’s roaming deer population


Sharpshooters hired by Roseville carried out a controlled deer hunt Jan. 21, reducing the city’s deer population by 20 animals.

Since the majority of Roseville’s complaints about deer were clustered near Lake Owasso, the Jan. 21 deer cull was carried out in parks in that area.

Cull carried out in a single night

 

Matthew Theisen

Review staff

 

After years of discussions with residents sharply divided on how to best manage the city’s deer population, if it all, Roseville completed its deer management program by removing 20 animals in one night. 

The city’s deer population has remained relatively high for the last decade, generating many complaints about deer intruding on and damaging property, having run-ins with vehicles and deer becoming accustomed to humans and acting aggressively. Some residents see the deer as a clear nuisance, while others welcome the close encounters. 

The Roseville City Council deliberated a feeding ban throughout 2015, hearing impassioned arguments from residents both for and against it. The work resulted in an ordinance put in place that December.

“I would say that Roseville and its citizens have been pretty patient over the last couple of years” when it comes to the deer debate, says Lonnie Brokke, director of Roseville Parks and Recreation. 

Brokke says the issue truly emerged more than ten years ago when police began receiving a large volume of calls regarding intrusive deer. He explains while the department had an animal control division, there was no wildlife management program in place. 

Neighboring cities had begun addressing their deer issues, and Roseville Parks and Recreation took charge by monitoring the calls, working with Ramsey County to document what areas the complaints came from while keeping records on where the deer were in conflict with people. 

Since 2004 the parks department has conducted aerial surveys along with Ramsey County, taking annual counts of Roseville’s often-fluctuating deer population.

 

A spike in numbers 

A decade later, complaints about deer came to a head again when the number of deer jumped to 61 in less than a square mile, as counted during a flyover survey. 

“As far as [Roseville] taking action, in 2014 they started working with the citizens, based off a higher number of complaints, vehicle collisions, and issues with herbage in neighborhoods,” says Scott Noland, an area wildlife manager with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. 

The Roseville deer population averaged around 43 deer for the first decade of surveying, peaking in 2014. 

As of 2016, there were 52 deer in Roseville, and late last year the city council voted to move beyond the feeding ban and hire professional sharpshooters to reduce its deer population to a more manageable size.

“The city can set their own level,” Noland says. “The DNR recommends, but the city — based off of what they’re seeing, what they’re hearing from citizens — can make it higher or lower. It’s totally up to them as long as that public process is followed.”

The city worked with the DNR and Ramsey County to determine that Roseville contains roughly three-quarters of a square mile of suitable deer habitat. The DNR recommended that a sustainable population would be 15-20 deer per square mile, so the city decided that an acceptable number of deer would be 20-25 deer.

The options for reducing the city’s deer population presented to the city council were a controlled hunt with United States Department of Agriculture sharpshooters, trapping and relocation, or a bow hunt in closed parks, something that has taken place in surrounding cities. With bow hunting, the hunter keeps the meat, while the sharpshooters’ kills are donated to local needy families. Because of this and the higher risk of injured deer running during a bow hunt, the council opted to hire sharpshooters. 

“These aren’t hunters, these are employees of the USDA who come in to do a job,” Brokke says, underscoring a point brought up by city council members. “It’s certainly not a sport.”

 

Dearly beloved

Though the council agreed sharpshooters were the best option, not all members thought a cull was necessary.

“For me, it’s disheartening,” says council member Tammy McGehee, who is opposed to killing wild animals and abstained from voting on the implementation of the controlled hunt. “We proposed a simple deer feeding ban, but that was too simple for them. I agree that massive feeding is wrong, but we were going to wait a year and see how this went because the herd moves all around.”

She explains the city’s deer herd is not fixed in Roseville, but roams the surrounding cities that already remove deer in different ways. Other residents, like Timothy Callaghan, just enjoy Roseville’s wildlife. 

“There are many people in Roseville who appreciate the deer and like them around,” he says.

Brokke says he understands residents’ concerns and says the decision to use sharpshooters wasn’t made lightly. 

“We really appreciate people calling us, asking the questions, reporting what they’re seeing. There are people who are on both sides of this, and I certainly understand both sides. I really do want to hear from people so I encourage people to call,” he says. 

“It certainly wasn’t a ‘spur of the moment’ thing.”

 

Done in one night

A letter explaining the deer cull was sent to residents in the areas where it would be carried out, at the beginning of January, and notices were posted in parks. Locations included Owasso Hills Park, Lady Slipper Park, The Harriet Alexander Nature Center, and the leaf compost site on Dale Street. 

The sharpshooting was conducted by a division of the USDA, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, or APHIS, which penciled in four nights of work to remove 20 deer, as permitted by the DNR. 

According to the USDA, it was able to use three sharpshooters to remove the permitted 20 deer in one visit to the city on the evening of Tuesday, Jan. 21.  

Will this one night solve the problems associated with Roseville’s roaming deer herd? 

An APHIS representative says in the absence of hunting, deer populations in areas such as Roseville do have the ability to recover quickly from this type of control work. How quickly the population will recover and where the herd will settle in the coming years remains to be seen. 

City councils can choose to conduct sustained annual hunts targeting a small number of deer, the APHIS representative says, or conduct hunts based on populations, complaints, or vehicle incidents. Both options “may reduce damage, issues and complaints for a city, depending on their objectives.”

McGehee says the natural surroundings were what drew many people to Roseville in the first place. She says many of her neighbors enjoy seeing deer up close, and she wonders how much humans may actually be encroaching on the wildlife. 

“I’m not unsympathetic to people’s concerns,” she says, “but I am less sympathetic to those who choose to live next to a natural area and complain about wildlife.”

 

Matthew Theisen can be reached at mtheisen@lillienews.com or 651-748-7817.

 

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