San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

August 1st, 2011
San Marcos deer population 10 times denser than ideal


San Marcos police officer Andrew Sparenberg shoots an injured deer on July 18 near Spring Road and Post Road. PHOTO by SEAN BATURA


New information has emerged about San Marcos’ urban deer population, the management of which councilmembers are expected to discuss this fall.

In February and March, the city’s deer population may have been four times larger than the Hays County average and 10 times more than ideal, according to Texas State researchers.

At the city council’s request, Texas State Regents’ Professor of Biology John T. Baccus and his graduate students conducted the first phase of a deer census in February and March, when herds are usually least-dense. Baccus’ team will begin the second and final phase of the census in August, when herds are usually densest.

Baccus is expected to unveil the census’ results and possibly recommend a course of action to San Marcos councilmembers by Oct. 1. Councilmembers will use Baccus’ census and recommendations in their deliberations about deer management strategies, which may include a proposal to criminalize deer feeding.

In May 2010, councilmembers discussed the idea of banning deer feeding after city staff unveiled the results of a web-based survey that indicated most residents may favor such a ban. The same month, city staff told councilmembers any deer management strategy would involve killing deer, take multiple years, and must be preceded by a census of the animals.

Of the survey’s 638 respondents, 337 indicated support for a law banning deer feeding, 253 opposed such a ban, and 48 skipped the question. Seventy-one survey respondents admitted to feeding deer, 526 said they do not feed them, and 41 people skipped the question.

The city’s online survey included the question, “Do you believe actions need to be taken to reduce the deer population?” Those who responded “yes” numbered 335, 256 said “no,” and 47 skipped the question. The statement, “The deer cause many problems and solutions are needed,” garnered the approval of 267 respondents. Those who agreed with the statement, “The deer cause some problems, but not enough to worry about,” numbered 259. Only 68 approved of the statement, “The deer do not cause any problems in San Marcos,” and 44 skipped the question.

To determine deer population density during February-March, Baccus’ team drove at slow speed and counted deer along the length of four pre-determined census routes, or “census lines.” Baccus said city representatives selected the lines.

“The areas selected were areas with the most deer problems,” Baccus said. “These lines were Spring Lake Hills, Holland-Sierra Circle-North LBJ (Drive), Franklin-Hazelton Loop, and Willow Creek.”

Baccus said the average density for all lines was one deer per acre, or four deer per four acres. Baccus said Hays County has an average deer population of one deer per four acres.

“This is considered a very high deer density,” Baccus said. “Generally, a target number is one deer per 10-12 acres.”

According to Baccus, the first phase of the census yielded the following results:

• Aquarena Line: 0.73 deer per acre or 2.8 deer per four acres.

• Holland Line: 0.73 deer per acre or 2.8 deer per four acres.

• Franklin Line: 0.35 deer per acre or 1.4 deer per four acres.

• Willow Creek Line: 1.9 deer per acre or 7.6 deer per four acres.

Baccus said his team counted deer along each line five times during four weeks in order to obtain “variational effects,” such as moon phase, in the samples. He said they counted deer from 4:30 p.m. until dusk, when herds are most active. Baccus’ team plotted locations of observed deer on a map with the aid of global positioning system (GPS) equipment.

City of San Marcos Animal Services Manager Bert Stratemann said the areas surveyed in the deer census are near “greenspaces” and in the area where the Balcones Escarpment rises up.

Stratemann said deer in San Marcos are “regularly” run over by motorists.

“We pick up at least one to three (dead) deer a day,” Stratemann said. “Sometimes, during the rut season, it can be as high as 10 deer a day.”

Stratemann said his office gives the dead deer to Texas Disposal Systems. Stratemann said most deer-related vehicular accidents occur near sundown.

San Marcos police sometimes shoot injured deer, a practice called “field euthanasia” by the city. Police shot 40 animals in 2009, 30 animals in 2010, and 16 animals so far in 2011. The above numbers represent incidents for which police filed reports. The city requires police officers to file reports when they discharge their firearms. Stratemann said about 100 percent of field euthanasia incidents involve deer.

“We don’t want (an injured deer) running out into traffic again or stumbling around causing more accidents,” Stratemann said. “We don’t want the animal to suffer, and generally the police officers can take care of that right then, put the animal out of its misery, then we’ll come and pick it up in the morning.”

Stratemann said it is safer for police to kill the animals than for his subordinates to relocate the animals.

“They can hurt you with their hooves,” Stratemann said. “They’re very sharp and can do some damage. It’s not fun to be kicked. I’ve been kicked by one.”

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14 thoughts on “San Marcos deer population 10 times denser than ideal

  1. I think we need to let nature take its course; folks don’t have to drive like mad inside the city, and they can plant deer-resistant plants. I think they’re lovely, though I know most don’t agree. We invaded their space — lots of other critters’ too, so live with it!

  2. You know deer are remarkable in their healing process… They can even leap with three legs. I wonder how injured the deer was.. Just saying.. You could hear shots occasionally in Willow Creek before they were in the city limits and council member wanted their taxes fast! Now here yall are again discussing the deer, spending money on the deer, and the research that you all will need to draw a conclusion as to what to do with the deer. Are you all going to hire a focus group from where ever to come to a conclusion.. Sigh…..

  3. They’re awful in my neighborhood (part of the census survey). I plant only deer resistant plants but short of cactus they’ll eat about anything. I urge all my neighbors to build 6′ fences that, though the deer CAN jump, they usually won’t. This will disrupt the migration through the neighborhood. By all means, feeding should be outlawed or at least discouraged by the city. A hunt in our green belts to thin the heard would be great. Get some volunteer butchers and donate the meat to charity. The deer wouldn’t be so populous if we didn’t put out a buffet, in the form of delicious decortive plants and watered landscapes so to Kate – these populations are not natural.

  4. the “urban” deer population has little to do with nature – we as humans have artificially inflated the deer populations and since they are not an ‘endangered’ species, routine and regular supervised hunts to thin the population are needed; in fact, action on this problem is far overdue. if people want to have deer running and living on their property, then they should not be living in san marcos or any other town. citation for feeding deer are most certainly needed.

  5. Please explain how “we as humans have artificially inflated the deer populations”. Seems to me we’ve encroached on their habitat via new development.
    Believe me, I’m no deer (or tree) hugger. I don’t need to put food out to feed the deer because they dine just fine every night at my place — they’ve destroyed every deer-proof plant in my yard, and now jump my 6 foot fence to eat the cat food and whatever else they please. I don’t know what the answer is. “Pave paradise and put up a parking lot….”?

  6. I’m no biologist but it seems to me that a year round supply of succulent, well-watered vegetation would encourage breeding. There MIGHT not be more deer – they might just be concentrated around my house because people feed them corn and begonias. In any event, it’s a problem in a lot of communities so it’s not like we’re alone in our meaness. Build fences and stop feeding them. Not too extreme.

  7. I prefer education of the citizens instead of passing more ordinances or killing or trapping deer. The deer will always be here. For the city to spend one dime trying to get rid of them is not too wise if you understand deer and where San Marcos is located. People should not pretend that San Marcos is some urban neighborhood with a deer problem. We are located a the foot of the Texas Hill County and to the west there are vast numbers of deer and they are always on the move. It is easy to blame the people who feed and water the deer. They are really doing the deer a greater disservice than their neighbors and need to be told so. But the deer are here for more reasons than food and water. Food and water is just something they luck into. There is plenty for the deer to eat in the Hill Country even in the worst of droughts. For a deer it is just plain safer to hang out where they don’t have to worry about getting shot at or eaten. The real problem is our desire to completely dominate the environment instead of working with it even making it work for us. We want our yards to look like they did in Houston–not going to happen. Try Purple sages, Texas Sages, Vinca, Cacti, and other plants. Yes the deer will take a nibble but the plants will live.

  8. Thank you Stephen… I had to laugh at Rain deer thinking we live in an urban area.. ( Oh yes and how humans are a part of inflating the deer pop. Pft….. really? Someone needs to call PETA again to do some splaining about our furry friends…

  9. BOWHUNT! Donate the meat to Hunters for the Hungry, the city does not need to spend money on anything, the city can actually gain revenue by auctioning/selling tags to bowhunters. Remember we are in a drought, deer are coming into back yards drinking out of pet water bowls, pools etc. San Marcos has always had a pretty healthy deer pop. anyways, look at cities and small towns up north, they have figured it out. Just to see a liberal treehugger cringe, when i’m at full draw in one of the greenbelts would be priceless..

  10. Use this overpopulation for a learning experience for young people.Gather up some experienced hunters and some TPW guys and have a specified time and area for teaching the fundamentals of hunting and safety while hunting.
    Also how to clean and dispose of the carcasses. Having them donate the meat to whomever it could help.
    Let’s see, experience hunting(A WIN),learning first hand safety(A WIN), Seeing where and how the meat is gathered(A WIN) and the experience of maybe helping the less fortunate with a meal(A WIN). Win+Win+Win+Win= a manageable deer population/ Less car wreaks.

  11. Jason- “Just to see a liberal treehugger cringe, when i’m at full draw…” Hopefully that was a bad attempt at humor and that you aren’t that ignorant about hunting safety.

  12. how do people inflate deer populations in places like san marcos? first of all, development drives out the deer’s natural predators – some think a deer in their front yard is ‘cute’ but NO ONE wants coyotes, mountain lions, etc around. homeowners and businesses who water their lawns so do they don’t die off, establish a permanent food trough for deer that might not be available during times of drought like these. normally during a severe drought, some deer would die off but more often, they move on and would not breed as much as during time of surplus. yes the deer were here before and may always be here but the development in the area has led to greater population due to 1. lack of predators and 2. constant food supply.

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