Deer In Our Cities: Missoula, Montana and Other US Cities
The Problem of Deer in the City of Missoula, Montana
Missoula, Montana is being overrun by deer. Some call them invading ungulates. Others see humans as the invading species as new homes creep into the hills surrounding the city which have been the traditional home to deer.
The city is currently gathering an estimate of the number of deer living in the city, but early guesses range from fifteen hundred to three thousand. An evening drive through the neighborhoods in the hills surrounding the city will quickly reveal the scope of the problem. Deer stand in fenced yards, in flower and vegetable gardens, in parks and on the streets. They don’t run when you drive by or when you stop to photograph them. They simply aren’t afraid of humans.
The Deer Population in the City of Missoula, Montana
According to the City of Missoula, Montana, there are more than 3,000 deer living in this city of 67,000 people.
Next Generation, Missoulian DeerClick thumbnail to view full-size
United States Whitetail Deer Population Increase Since 1900
In 1900, there were 500,000 whitetail deer in the United States. By 2014, that number had grown to over 28 million.
Sources: Cornell University, Ithaca NY
Deer Friendly (deerfriendly.com)
Where did the deer come from?
The deer come from the hills surrounding the city. As Missoula expands, people, homes, cars and streets crowd into the traditional habitat of these animals. It seems as though the deer have come to terms with this encroachment and have chosen to peacefully coexist with humans. At least, that is their take on the situation. The deer move in out of the city with ease as they travel along the valleys connecting the city with the surrounding countryside.
Protecting Young Trees
Why Are Deer Moving Into the City of Missoula, Montana?
Actually, the deer have always been a part of the city of Missoula, but the numbers have definitely increased during recent years. There are three main reasons the deer are moving into the city in larger numbers.
- Loss of habitat to humans.
- Variety and abundance of food in the lawns and gardens of the city.
- Safety from their natural predators in the wild, i.e. mountain lions, grizzlies, black bear, wolves and coyotes.
Pets or Pests?
What are the problems associated with so many deer living in close proximity to humans?
As this article was being written, it had only been five days since a passenger on a motorcycle was killed when the bike hit a deer on a city street at night. This is the second such fatality in four months in Missoula. At last report, alcohol may have been a factor in the latest fatality.
In addition to making driving even more dangerous than it already is, the deer eat vegetable gardens until there is nothing left. Deer fight with their antlers and with their hooves. There is a fear that deer, when cornered or threatened, might become aggressive. In light of this and the fact that deer love public parks, it may only be a matter of time before a child is harmed by a scared deer.
- Unsafe driving conditions
- destruction of vegetable gardens
- Potential danger to children and adults by frightened deer.
Cute or Annoying?
Proposed Solutions to the Deer Problem in Missoula, Montana
The capital of Montana, Helena, also has a deer problem and is a few years ahead of Missoula in dealing with the issue. After consulting with city residents, the city council chose to trap the deer and then kill them in as humane a way as possible. Fawns are released in another area. The results have been dramatic and have caught the attention of Missoula officials. Here are other ideas the city is considering.
- Capturing and sterilizing the deer which would theoretically lead to fewer deer in the city as time passed.
- Allowing hunters to shoot deer closer to the city during hunting season.
- Trapping the deer in nets overnight and killing them with a bolt gun stunner.
- Live trapping the deer and relocating them.
- Learning to live with the deer as they seem to have learned to live with man.
A resolution by the city’s leadership will eventually be chosen, and it will certainly not meet with the approval of everyone. How should the decision be made? What is of highest importance? Is the welfare of the deer the ultimate concern or is the safety of drivers of automobiles and motorcycles the highest priority?
What are your thoughts on the issue? Have you heard of other cities facing this kind of problem? Share your solutions here.