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[whitespace] Council weighs in on a deer population control program

Saratoga--A city analyst presented an informational staff report to the city council on July 19, concerning options to deal with the growth in the city's deer population.

One option is for the city to implement a program that would allow residents to pay professional companies to trap deer and then cull, or kill, the animals on site with rifles. The deer would be killed on site so they would not injure themselves or go into shock during transport. The deer meat would then be donated to charities.

If the program were ever implemented in Saratoga, residents would apply for permits from the state Department of Fish and Game to contract with companies. Also, the city would have to adopt an ordinance allowing firearms to be discharged. According to city code, they cannot now be discharge within city limits.

Analyst Chris Korn prepared the staff report, but did not make a recommendation either way.

A majority of council members said they would not support this option, but Councilwoman Ann Waltonsmith, who has lived in the Saratoga hills since she was a child, said the city has a deer problem and it has only gotten worse over the years. At the meeting on July 19, she said she would "go out on a limb" and support giving the residents in the hillsides the choice of having a program to kill the deer. Bogosian agreed.

Waltonsmith's view is that the city has a real problem that it can no longer ignore. Development has driven away or people have killed the natural predators of deer, such as mountain lions or coyotes. She said she sees many more deer today, and that they eat plants they used to reject. They are crowded into smaller spaces, and they are not hunted by people or predators as much as they once were.

She also said hillside residents are taking the law into their own hands.

Councilman Evan Baker said he was astonished that the state department came up with the solution of killing deer. Nick Streit also said he would be against the option. He noted that the deer were here first, before residents.

"I'm not for culling Bambi right now," he said noting he would not know how to explain the program to his two young children. "But I understand we have a problem and I'm not so sure what the solution is right now ... but I can't go for this."

John Mehaffey said he's not sure culling is the answer because he's not sure it would work.

"Deer breed very rapidly and what you're going to do is create a 'venison for the homeless program,' where we pay for the culling of the deer, they give the meat to the homeless, and the deer go out and breed some more," he said.

At the end of discussions, council members directed city staff to initiate a meeting between the managers, council members or staff of other cities, such as Cupertino, Los Gatos, Monte Sereno, Campbell or Los Altos Hills, to discuss the ways to deal with the deer problem. According to Fish and Game, no cities in California have programs in place to cull deer. Saratoga's would be the first program of its kind.

"I've heard you can tell the pioneers [since] they're the ones with the arrows in their backs," Mehaffey said at the meeting. "I'm not sure I want to be the first one out there."

Last October, a representative from Fish and Game, Lieutenant Dennis Baldwin, suggested that residents could put up fences, or plant types of vegetation that are not appetizing to deer. Council then directed staff to look into other options.

According to Korn, Animal Damage Management, a Morgan Hill pest control company, would set traps for $300 to $500 and cull deer for $100 each. The company said it uses the quietest rifle available.

While there is no program to deal with deer in Saratoga, the Santa Clara County Vector Control District traps other animals, such as raccoons, skunks, or any other undomesticated animal or insects that can transmit disease or cause harm to humans. Vector Control has to euthanize any animal it catches. In order to trap an animal, it has to set up residency or pose a threat, such as being aggressive, according to Kriss Costa, education specialist for the district. However, residents have to agree to repair or remove whatever enticed the animal to their residence before Vector Control will trap it.

Ann Waltonsmith suggested in the past that salt licks with birth control be set up in areas with a large deer population, but she noted that this program might have legal problems and that it may be expensive. But she thinks it is the most humane option of them all.

"Because we don't have a good solution, the individuals in our hills are taking matters into their own hands," Waltonsmith said. She explained that they were building fences that exceed the city height limit and are visually imposing, which take away the sense of open space, and force all the deer onto the properties without fences or dogs. She added that some residents do their own culling, which she does not support at all.

"I really want to look at this, I know it's very controversial, but I do think, living in the hills, we have to look at this as a city," she said. "How are we going to help our citizens make reasonable decisions about this, because right now they are left to their own devices...and I don't think getting a big dog is the solution."

She mentioned that recently, when she was having her house painted, two baby deer died on her property since the painters had touched them. The mother left them to starve since there was human scent on them.
Kara Chalmers

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