DALTON GARDENS – There’s no mystery about what ate Les Likes’ corn this summer.
Deer tracks are embedded in the mud at the edge of his 1 1/2 –acre corn patch in Dalton Gardens, where half-nibbled cobs are the norm.
The lost ears exasperate Likes, a hobby farmer. But he’s more concerned about recent images from the adjacent neighbor’s trail camera, showing two coyotes feeding on a deer carcass in a secluded corner of the yard.
Dalton Gardens – a bedroom community north of Coeur d’Alene – has a long-standing deer population. Now, the whitetails are reaching densities where they’re attracting predators, Likes and a dozen others told the Dalton Gardens City Council during last week’s council meeting.
Urban deer herds are a growing issue across the Inland Northwest. Three mild winters have boosted survival rates, increasing the number of deer nuisance complaints received by wildlife agencies.
The complaints run the gamut: From deer devouring gardens and tearing down fences, to deer creating traffic hazards and drawing in predators.
In Medical Lake, city officials are working with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife on a task force to address its urban deer herd. The agency has also worked with residents of Colville, Colfax, Republic and Millwood on nuisance deer complaints.
Deer are often a divisive topic for communities.
“It’s a social issue,” said Wayne Wakkinen, Idaho Fish and Game’s regional wildlife manager. “Some people think it’s really cool to have deer. Some want to feed the deer. Others don’t appreciate having them in their yard.”
Does with access to nutritious forage are more likely to give birth to twins, Wakkinen said. So, over time, urban deer become a self-perpetuating problem.
Whitetails are a common sight in Dalton Gardens, a former orchard district that was subdivided into lots of approximately one acre. Last week, a doe grazing in a front yard merely flicked her tail at a pedestrian walking a dog.
Dan Franklin, the city’s mayor, did not respond to an interview request. But he told the Coeur d’Alene Press last week that city officials are working on a deer strategy. Options under consideration include a do-not-feed ordinance and allowing hazing of deer with paintball guns.
During a 2013 poll of the city’s 2,300 residents, 70 percent of respondents said they enjoyed seeing deer in town. But a similar percentage of respondents wanted fewer deer.
Seven deer were illegally shot and dumped in the city last year. The offender was never caught.
Tom Dickerson, a 40-year resident of Dalton Gardens, said he sees more deer now than he did in the 1970s.
“You can drive down any street in Dalton Gardens at any time of the day and see a deer,” he said. “They’re not afraid of people and not afraid of cars. A lot of people think they’re pets.”
Dickerson blames the deer for the cougar he twice spotted in his neighbor’s pasture this summer. Last month, another neighbor called Idaho Fish and Game to report a cougar in his yard. It was gone by the time an officer arrived.
“The deer epidemic is one thing, but now I’m more concerned about the predators coming into town,” Dickerson said. “Our neighbors have little kids.”
As long as there have been deer in Dalton Gardens, “there have been predators hanging around the edges,” said Craig Walker, Fish and Game’s regional conservation officer. But actually seeing one is rare, he said.
Cougars that visit neighborhoods tend be young animals, recently kicked out by mom, or older animals that aren’t as effective at hunting, said Wakkinen, the Fish and Game wildlife manager.
Coyotes are scavengers that are often present in rural neighborhoods, he said. They could take a fawn, but “they’re not predators of big game, especially this time of year,” Wakkinen said.
But Likes, the corn farmer, said plenty of deer get clipped by cars in Dalton Gardens. He thinks an injured deer got cornered by coyotes in the neighbor’s yard.
The neighbor, Vern Severtson, used a backhoe to bury the deer carcass. The coyotes returned to dig up the bones, which was unsettling, Severtson said.
Like many Dalton Gardens residents, he and his wife have mixed feelings about the deer. A fawn was born in their yard on Father’s Day, which they named “Howard.” When they discovered the carcass, “we hoped it wasn’t Howard,” Severtson said.
There are no easy solutions to urban deer, said Walker, the Fish and Game officer.
The city of Fernan Lake Village, just east of Coeur d’Alene, passed a do-not-feed ordinance and hired a professional trapper to address a deer problem several years ago. About 30 deer were moved out the area, said Mayor Dick Jurvelin.
Given the cost of trapping, “we have not continued that program but simply keep asking the residents not to feed the deer,” he said.
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