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.”Email | Print