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SHERIDAN — A wildlife management program forged via a cooperative effort between the Sheridan Police Department and Wyoming Game and Fish Department has played a major role in getting the deer population within city limits down to a manageable level.
The drop in the number of deer within city limits has led to a reduction in human-deer conflicts.
WGFD Sheridan Regional Wildlife Supervisor Joe Gilbert said when he arrived in Sheridan in 2005, his predecessor told him there were between 400 and 500 deer wintering in town. While a big part of Wyoming culture hinges on respect and peaceful coexistence with wildlife, things were certainly crowded.
“We were getting a lot of complaints from the public as far as deer eating their gardens or damaging their landscapes by rubbing their antlers,” Gilbert said. “In some cases, there were reports of aggressive deer.”
On top of everything else, Gilbert said vehicle collisions involving deer were a daily occurrence. Other encroachment issues varied from conflicts between deer and pets and deer getting hung up in fences and volleyball nets.
“No one likes seeing animals get injured,” Gilbert said, indicating something had to be done.
He said the phenomenon of deer flocking to Sheridan is common partly because the two rivers that flow through town, the Big Goose and Little Goose, exist as a natural travel corridor for wildlife.
Gilbert said relocation of the herd is impractical because of their numbers and the fact that relocated deer are at an extreme environmental disadvantage that puts their survival at risk. That, he said, makes hunting a more humane solution.
“Originally, what we did was work with the city to amend the city ordinances as far as the discharge of projectiles to allow an urban archery hunt,” Gilbert explained, indicating the current hunt areas include sparsely populated areas within Sheridan city limits. As a result of the policy change, bow hunters can obtain permission from local landowners and the police department to harvest deer in town.
Established archery hunt areas include open fields near Mountain Shadows Bulevard and the Big Horn Avenue Loop, Coffeen Avenue on the way to Big Horn, the landfill, the railroad yard, and Hume Draw, among others.
A citizen’s hunting initiative wasn’t enough to get the encroachment issue under control. Gilbert said that while as many as 100 deer could have been taken out of town by archers when urban hunting was authorized in 2007, that number approached a mere 30 for the first few years.
When hunter initiative didn’t address the problem to the desired extent, the Sheridan Police were recruited into the local deer management program. Under the Chapter 56 Deer Harvest, police are authorized to kill a certain number of deer in town via a carefully aimed shot from their assault rifles.
Sheridan Police Sgt. Travis Koltiska said the deer management program is wrapping up its third year. He said his department conducted a survey in 2011 and estimated there were 185 deer in town. This fall, a similar count yielded only 34 deer in town with another eight very near city limits.
“There are still deer in town, but the numbers are much lower than before,” Koltiska said, indicating the numbers show the program has met with success.
SInce 2011, the police department has harvested 210 deer from the area and donated the carcasses to hungry families. During 2013, the department harvested and donated 29 deer in the months of January and February. Koltiska said this year, the carcasses were self processed by the recipients.
Koltiska estimated the department has donated between 5,000 and 6,000 pounds of game meat to local families. He said an adult deer yields approximately 35 pounds of meat.
“We do have a lot of people on the list who wanted deer meat this year that we could not fulfill because we are not harvesting anymore deer this year,” Koltiska said.
Koltiska said police may begin harvesting deer again in the next few months, but the efforts won’t be as robust as they have been in the past because the issue is getting under control.
Gilbert added a sweep of Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease, and illness transmitted to deer via waterborne gnats, has also greatly contributed to quelling the deer population this year.
“Deer number are, indeed, down,” Koltiska said.
Gilbert agreed his office has had far fewer complaints in the past. However, reports of nuisance deer have not gone away completely. Gilbert said his department fielded 165 calls about injured deer in 2012, while this year, there have been 55.
“As long as there is a deer in city limits, there’s going to be somebody complaining,” Gilbert said, indicating it’s hard to determine and achieve a perfect scenario for urban deer. “We have to work within the sideboards of ‘Harvest none,’ and ‘Harvest them all’,” he said.
Gilbert and Koltiska agreed the ultimate goal of the deer management program is not to eliminate deer from city limits.
“We live in an area where wildlife is a valuable commodity for all cross-sections of society,” Koltiska said. “Whether you want to simply see them, wish to hunt them in outlying areas, or rely on them to feed your family, most of the community likes the deer.”
Koltiska added at the same time, people don’t like hitting deer with their vehicles or having their landscaping destroyed, so reducing their numbers is needed.
“We do not know how many we will harvest in that calendar year and will likely evaluate it as the harvest proceeds,” he said.
Gilbert emphasized the deer population control program is evaluated based on public feedback.
Whether it’s urban archers hunting on private lands, police shooting deer and donating the meat or natural disease processes, Sheridan’s deer population is definitely much smaller than it has been for years.