A recent study by a Mississippi State University professor has recommended ways Starkville leaders can help manage the deer population in the city limits.
Photo by: Courtesy photo/Miss. State University Dept. of Wildlife, Fisheries and Aquaculture
The red dots in this map are vehicle-deer collisions in the Starkville city limits since Jan. 1, 2010.
Photo by: Courtesy graphic/Miss. State University Dept. of Wildlife, Fisheries and Aquaculture
March 11, 2017 10:13:16 PM
One of the benefits of living in a less populated state, such as Mississippi, is that residents don't have to go to a zoo or wildlife reserve to get close to nature.
In fact, sometimes nature can be a little too close, which led to a semester-long class project for Steve Demarais, a professor at Mississippi State University's Department Wildlife, Fisheries and Aquaculture.
"Back in the fall, the Starkville aldermen approached us about doing a study of deer population in the city because they have seen an increase in the number of deer-car collisions and reports of deer getting into people's gardens," Demarais said.
The aldermen came to the right person. Demarais has been a specialist in deer for 33 years -- 15 years at the University of Texas in Austin before coming to MSU.
"They wanted us to study the situation and make some recommendations about how the city could deal with the deer problem," Demarais said.
He delivered the 23-page report at Tuesday's board of aldermen meeting. Aldermen took no action but do plan to consider the recommendations at a future board meeting.
"The study showed that occurrences of deer in residential areas is fairly common and widespread," Mayor Parker Wiseman said. "Based on the study, there are concentrations of deer in certain areas, in the south part of the city along South Montgomery Road, but there have been occurrences all over the city. So it's not confined to one area. I think it's an issue every resident has likely experienced at one time or another."
The report shows there have been more than 80 reports of deer-vehicle collisions in Starkville since January 2010. It also shows 58 instances of "nuisance deer" -- deer destroying private property -- between 2012 and 2016 within the city limits. Deer encroachment on private property is difficult to combat, Demarais said.
"Keeping deer away from your flowers and gardens is pretty tough," Demarais said. "Whatever you plant, that's what deer like to eat. If you plant petunias, deer like petunias. If you like broccoli, deer like broccoli, too. I'm not a botanist, but deer seem to love just about everything you'll typically see in a garden."
The study showed the highest concentrations of deer activity within the city limits are along the city's northern and southern extremities.
How many deer are present within the city limits, though, is not clear.
"We don't have any data on deer count in the city, which was one of our recommendations; to have a deer count study," Demarais said. "But even if the deer population hasn't increased, as more development comes, the more you'll have these incidents."
The report suggested three recommendations for the city to consider:
■ Pass an ordinance banning the feeding and attraction of deer within city limits, except where used to promote lethal harvest;
■ Promote recreational archery hunting from elevated blinds within deer habitat of 10 acres or more, as is currently allowed under state law. Additionally, the city should consider allowing archery hunting on 5-acre blocks of deer habitat within the two areas of greatest deer-related conflict. An associated requirement would be that hunters have written landowner permission on their person; and
■ Consider implementing a survey of deer density during the fall of 2018.
Wiseman said aldermen will likely support the feeding ordinance, but he isn't certain about allowing bow hunting within the city limits.
"That might be a possibility," he said. "It we decided to go in that direction, it's something we would definitely have to give a lot of thought to in developing a policy for that."
Policies in Columbus
Starkville, like Columbus, has an ordinance against hunting within the city limits.
Unlike Starkville, however, Columbus has long had an exception -- areas within the city limits under the care of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
"We've had some Corps land inside the city limits where archery hunting has been permitted ever since the Lock and Dam was built," said Ralph Antonelli, who has been the Corps Natural Resources Director for the past 18 years. "It's worked pretty well, I think. We don't really have any data about deer harvest numbers or what it's meant to the deer population, but just from what we've seen over the years, it seems to be working pretty well."
Antonelli said hunters must have a permit from the Corps and are subject to all Department of Wildlife rules and regulations that are required of other archery hunters.
Sightings of deer within the Columbus city limits have long been commonplace, given the city's proximity to the water sources deer rely on for survival.
"Though we love to see deer in the wild in Mississippi, that is one of the unfortunate causes of many auto-deer motor vehicle accidents," Columbus Mayor Robert Smith said. "We have several deer accidents reported with city vehicles each year and as much as we try to prevent them, there is not a lot we can do except to ask drivers to slow down and be aware of the danger."
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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