A few mule deer in Riverside State Park learned Saturday morning that there’s no such thing as a free lunch.
Some 75 deer have been lured to a small area of the park by winter feeding, a practice discouraged by Washington Fish and Wildlife Department biologists.
But agency officials see the concentration of deer as a research opportunity.
Members of local sportsmen’s groups joined with the agency in an effort to trap about 10 deer, snap tags in their ears and fix radio collars around their necks for a study.
“We want to know where the deer go this spring and summer,” said Woody Myers, department research biologist. “We might be able to use some management options to keep them from coming into town in such large numbers in the future.
“Basically, we’d like to prevent a situation like they have in Helena and Republic,” where deer have taken up residence in neighborhoods. The deer invasions have been damaging to landscaping and dangerous for vehicles and people, he said.
Helena has authorized sharpshooters to kill certain numbers of deer in the city limits after numerous incidents, including the case of a teenage boy who had to dive under a parked vehicle to save himself from an aggressive buck during the fall mating season.
The situation at Riverside State Park and Fairmount Memorial Park developed during the deep snows of January. Several people in the area began feeding the deer thinking they were doing the animals a favor, said Madonna Luers, department spokeswoman.
“Unfortunately, it concentrated them where they caused problems for the cemetery and for other people, and several of the deer were hit by vehicles near Northwest Boulevard,” she said.
Volunteers from The Mule Deer Foundation set up feeding stations Friday night with special alfalfa pellets to lure the deer into safer areas of Riverside State Park.
“Feeding isn’t good because it takes deer off their native browse and puts alfalfa or grain in their gut that they can’t digest,” said Jim Kujala, a deer-trapping expert with the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council. “I’ve found dead deer with wheat compacted hard in their gut.”
Kujala worked with his seasoned partner, Dave Ross, plus Mule Deer foundation volunteers Mike Jones and Leonard Wolf to collar and release several deer that had quickly gone for the bait in the dog-kennel-like traps and tripped the gates behind them.
“These deer can kick you in the face before you can blink,” said Kujala, who’s learned from the school of hard knocks.
“You don’t just trap deer for fun. It’s dangerous to the animals and to the people. There’s got to be a good reason.”