Cedaredge has an urban wildlife population of deer that roam the streets and yards and which many residents are very fond of.
But there are downsides to humans and wildlife living in too close proximity. By becoming residents of town, the local deer population is exposing itself to hazards.
The ragged appearance of deer in Cedaredge helped prompt a recent seminar to discuss issues involving the town's growing urban deer population. Conducted by Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife District Ranger Cody Purcell and DPW Wildlife Biologist Evan Phillips, the presentation was attended by about a dozen local residents, who learned about problems created by the human/wildlife urban interface, and about what can be done to deal with some of those problems.
An information handout provided at the session from The Mule Deer Working Group and sponsored by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies provided overview on issues for local residents. It states in part, "Increased urbanization has reduced, fragmented, and in some cases, eliminated critical mule deer habitat. These overall changes in mule deer habitat affect deer populations, generally leading to declines. However, in many cases, mule deer have adapted to life in urban areas, leading to conflicts with humans.... Mule deer population can increase rapidly in these areas as deer take advantage of the abundant forage and water sources provided by humans as well as protection from hunting and other types of predation. Habituation to humans in close settings allows mule deer to exist at densities above what is generally seen in the wild. How urban mule deer impact people is often dependent on human tolerance levels, which can vary by community."
Purcell said that he was encouraged to have the meeting because of the poor condition of the deer that are seen in town. Cedaredge residents love the experience of watching deer grazing at sunrise and dusk on their lush, green lawns. But grazing on green lawns is not the natural nor the healthy way of deer.
The Mule Deer working group explains, "Mule deer are browsers: preferring leaves, stems, and buds of woody plants, as well as forbs (weeds). Like many other wildlife species, mule deer are opportunistic and in some cases will eat and damage ornamental plants, hedges, vegetables, flowers, and lawns. Bucks can damage shrubs and saplings by rubbing the bark with their antlers. This damage to personal and commercially-grown vegetation is not well-tolerated and can make people view mule deer as a nuisance."
Some people feel compelled to feed Cedaredge's urban deer population. This practice is not advised and can be harmful to the deer, states the Mule Deer Working group: "Supplemental feeding of mule deer in urban areas can greatly increase fawn production and may affect overall deer survival. Residents of urban areas often feed mule deer by hand or through a feeder because they enjoy having the deer in close proximity or feel that the deer need the supplement to survive. Inadvertent feeding also occurs such as through bird or squirrel feeders.
"Working with local governments to enact regulations prohibiting supplemental feeding is an important step in managing an urban deer problem. Prohibiting feeding also reduces the attractants that draw deer into the urban areas to begin with. Individuals should also consider placing bird or squirrel feeders out of reach to eliminate use by deer."
Orchard and garden produce may be more tasty and desirable food for the deer, but it is not as good as their natural diet. One person noted that deer used to go around the town in their seasonal migrations. But with the introduction of extensive game fencing around orchards some 30 years ago they began migrating into town.
(In fact, fencing deer out is considered the most effective way of dealing with their nuisance presence.)
Supplemental feeding of Cedaredge's deer has led to the development of a local population. Deer born in town tend to stay in town, another person said, and the resulting inbreeding is showing negative effects on the population.
The DPW is not able to determine the actual numbers of Cedaredge's urban deer population. The reason is that surveys are conducted by low flying aircraft including helicopters that annoy town residents, and the deer have lots of places to conceal themselves in town.
"We don't have a very good idea of the numbers of deer" in the town, Phillips said.
One comment made at the Cedaredge session was that the deer numbers are too high. Another said he can't even let his grandchildren play in his yard because of what the deer have deposited there.
One man said that he spreads bear and lion urine around the borders of his place to keep deer away from his fruit trees.
The deer need to be moved out, another said.
The DPW officials explained a program in Elizabeth where urban archery hunts are being allowed to deal with the urban deer over population issue. The Mule Deer Working Group explains, "Wildlife agencies are successfully using regulated hunting in urban areas to address urban deer issues. Carefully regulated archery hunts in restricted hunting areas can be particularly effective and efficient. Some agencies have used professional shooters to kill deer with the meat donated to charitable groups. Hunting in and around urban areas requires close coordination with local governments and citizens, but where possible, it is a cost-effective solution."
Purcell said, "There is a lot of poaching going on in this [Cedaredge] area." An urban hunt might help reduce that problem. In addition, private land hunting permits are available in units 52 and 411. They are "One of the only tools we have," he added.
Still, others said that the problem "is a human issue. We're moving into their territory. It is humans that are changing the deer environment." One woman said she moved to Cedaredge a couple of years ago from California in part because of the deer. "There has to be another way than killing animals," she said.
The Mule Deer Working Group states, "Urban areas rarely allow hunting. Deer repeatedly exposed to humans without negative consequences will eventually become habituated or show little fear of humans. Habituated mule deer may become aggressive and pose a danger to human residents. There are reports of mule deer bluff-charging people, chasing joggers, attacking postal workers, and killing small pets. Large mule deer numbers in urban areas can also lead to more deer on roads and increase the potential for deer-vehicle collisions. Mule deer populations attract predators to urban areas, creating a possible hazard for local residents and pets..."
Purcell explained that the DPW is moving in the direction of creating some kind of a joint authority to try and find ways to regulate the numbers of deer that populate the town. He advised, "Try and keep the wildlife wild and learn how to live together."
Other advice offered included the following:
• Residents with a dead deer in their yards should call Double J Disposal and the animal will be removed for a charge.
• If a resident finds a seriously injured animal, call DPW.
• People involved in an auto-deer collision are advised to call Delta Dispatch, 874-2015.
• People with problems concerning wildlife damage to property should contact the DPW. The Montrose office is located at 2300 S. Townsend Ave., Montrose; 970-252-6000.
Two fatal accidents occurred in Delta County within a two-day span last week.
Casey Gillenwater, 25, of Delta was killed the afternoon of Wednesday, Sept. 13, in a single-vehicle rollover on Highway 133 outside of Hotchkiss.