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It’s time for McCall citizens to address their wild deer problem

Regan Berkley is a Regional Wildlife Manager for Idaho Fish and Game
Boise State Public Radio, City of McCall, Regan Berkley
Regan Berkley is a Regional Wildlife Manager for Idaho Fish and Game

The City of McCall has a longstanding wild deer problem. Idaho Fish and Game said they counted 258 wild deer in city limits several weeks ago, and that number is only growing.

That’s why City of McCall officials need the public’s input. On May 4, the wild deer issue will be the main topic of discussion at a town hall meeting.

A poster about an upcoming "wildlife community conversation" with a deer on it and the time and date of the event.
City of McCall

Berkley visits with Morning Edition host George Prentice to talk about the deer numbers, an infestation of “exotic” lice and what options may be in front of the resort community.

“That certainly erodes some of the wildness that we as an agency really want to see maintained in our deer herds.”
Regan Berkley

Read the full transcript:

GEORGE PRENTICE: It's Morning Edition. I'm George Prentice. Good morning. Scene Wildlife Wild Deer in particular may not be an unusual experience in McCall, but it is now quite plainly a problem. There are too many deer in the city limits of McCall. Regan Berkley is here, Regional Wildlife Manager and she works out of the Idaho Fish and Game office in McCall Regan Berkley. Good morning.

REGAN BERKLEY: Good morning.

PRENTICE: Your recent count was about how many?

BERKLEY: We found a minimum of 258 deer living in McCall in the winter.

PRENTICE: And there have been some predators in their wake.

BERKLEY: There have been, yeah. We've had several reports, probably upwards of 50 reports of mountain lions in McCall this winter following kind of that size of a deer herd.

PRENTICE: So let's get right to the why. I'm guessing for city folk, they're thinking of Bambi and what's the problem? But it is an issue, right? When people are regularly feeding deer right out of their hands and sometimes even out of their car windows.

BERKLEY: You know, one of the natural things folks think of is that that makes, you know, deer, which are wild animals, quite habituated, you know, when they're used to actually going up right to people, right to cars. That certainly erodes some of the wildness that we as an agency really want to see maintained in our deer herds.And it causes other problems, too. You already alluded to mountain lions, but also, you know, when deer are used to walking up to vehicles, that means they're used to being on the streets and in and among vehicles, which which kind of poses a hazard both to the deer and to the motorists.

PRENTICE: I understand that it's probably more of an issue in the winter months, but the fact is you're about to have a lot more vehicles in. Mccall.

BERKLEY: We are. And it's more of an issue in the winter months simply because everyone who's been to McCall in the winter knows how much snow we get. People and deers movements are quite limited in the winter because we have four feet of snow. So really the only places that deer can move around are on roadways and any cleared paths, which very much limits their ability both to avoid vehicles, but also to avoid predation.

PRENTICE: And as a result, I'm guessing you and your colleagues and certainly law enforcement have been responding to a number of deer have been injured or possibly killed, right?

BERKLEY: Correct. We do every winter, I think this winter right now, we've you know, we at this office have already responded to over 45 calls for dead or severely injured deer. And that that is not including the calls that go directly to the McCall Police Department. They receive several as well.

PRENTICE: I was really interested in listening to a presentation of yours recently before the McCall City Council, and you were talking about a particular type of exotic lice that has been discovered. What can you tell us about that.

BERKLEY: Deer and in fact, all wildlife typically carry a lot of natural parasites, lice, ticks, those sorts of things which they've co-evolved with. That's okay for them. However, this particular louse is one that came over from Europe. It's actually native to fallow deer, not to mule deer. And so when mule deer get it, because they're not co-evolved with it, it causes intense and excessive itching, so much so that it causes the deer to kind of bite and scratch at their own skin, which causes lesions and a lot of hair loss sometimes to the point of hypothermia.

PRENTICE: Because I'm thinking one of the possible solutions would be relocation. But you wouldn't want to relocate those deer?

BERKLEY: No, unfortunately not. You know, that is certainly not something that we would want to transplant to kind of our native winter range herds, knowing that these deer have something that causes them major health problems, makes translocation not an option for these deer.

PRENTICE: Have you been able to relocate some?

BERKLEY: So not in McCall. We haven't even made an attempt to capture or relocate deer from McCall. Earlier this winter we did undertake a trapping effort in the city of Cascade. They passed a feeding ordinance last summer and asked if we could come and kind of help with their deer herd. So we committed to doing a short pilot project where we trapped some deer, did a health assessment on them. We knew that there was a probability that some of the deer in Cascade had these lice. We didn't know how many of them had it. And after two days of trapping, we actually stopped trapping because we determined that it was pretty high prevalence of lice in the Cascade Deer. 75% of the deer we trapped had the lice and there could not be relocated. So we didn't undertake that as a trap and euthanize effort. We really wanted to trap and translocate deer, so we needed to regroup at that point.

PRENTICE: To be clear, Fish and Game does not advocate. Hate for for policy change or for elected officials, you know, to sway them one way or another. You're in the information business, right? I mean, you're there to say this is the issue. It's more of a problem than not. And then it is up to the people who are public officials to make a decision, right?

BERKLEY: Absolutely. Yes. You know, we provide the best information that we can and we certainly provide information on a regular basis even to individuals in town who ask about speeding. But we're not making the policy or even recommending the policy regarding any kind of ordinance.

PRENTICE: You made one other interesting point here. I don't want to forget about this. You talked about the fawn/doe ratio. Do I have that right?

BERKLEY: You do have that right? Yep. And that's simply the number of fawnsdoe per the number of does that are out there. We typically express that as fawns per 100 those.

PRENTICE: So what's unusual about the numbers that you're seeing?

BERKLEY: There are a lot of fawns in McCall. Yeah. We typically so in December across the state, we do what we call herd composition surveys from a helicopter on our winter ranges. It's not uncommon for us to see somewhere in the 60 to 65 fawns per 100 does on those surveys. What we saw in our surveys in McCall was about 105 fawns per 100 does here in town.

PRENTICE: Okay. So that's going to dial up then the the rate of growth, right?

BERKLEY: Absolutely. Yes. You know, even with 65, 70 fawns per 100 does on winter ranges, we see generally a slowly growing deer herd. We're able to offer hunting opportunity, those sorts of things. 105 is is an exceptionally high number of fawns and indicates that this is a pretty quickly growing herd.

PRENTICE: Just anecdotally in the conversations that you do have with people and when you have the opportunity to talk to them about this, do most people get it? Do most people say, Oh, wow, that's good to know about why I should not feed them out of my hand, let alone out of my car? Do most people get it?

BERKLEY: You know, it certainly varies. A lot of folks very much do. But, you know, there's kind of two levels of understanding that and taking it to heart. People very much understand that it's maybe not the best thing for deer, maybe not the best thing for motorists, etcetera. But the fact is, people and we understand this, they like feeding deer because they like being close to them. They like feeling that they're helping the deer, those sorts of things. So, you know, there's very much in many folks kind of both reactions. I understand this, but I still really like doing it.

PRENTICE: Okay. We've gotten word. Help me out with this. There is going to be an opportunity for the public to learn more about this coming up in the next week or two.

BERKLEY: Right. As I understand it, the city is planning a town hall meeting. They believe that's supposed to be May fourth in the evening. Don't know the details about that yet, but they are trying to get the public together to share what the council has learned, share what we know and get some feedback from the community.

PRENTICE: It'll be really interesting, right, to take the temperature of that room because I think whether it's the police department or whether it's city council, they're interested in seeing how the public lands on this. Like you said it, people will have very different takes.

BERKLEY: Oh, I think I think you're absolutely right. Yes, There's going to be a variety of opinions and emotions about this topic.

PRENTICE: I just as a layperson, it appears as if you have like one of the coolest jobs on the planet. But do I have that right? It sounds like your job is amazing.

BERKLEY: I will say I very much like my job. You know, when folks ask me about my job or say, gosh, I wish I had your job, I always tell them I'm certainly never bored. Every day is a little different. I never know exactly what I'm going to be doing on a certain day, whether it's, you know, capturing deer, dealing with, you know, talking to folks in town, removing dead deer or speaking to an NPR reporter.

PRENTICE: Oh, my gosh. Well, I'm not certain how often people get a chance to thank you and your colleagues, but I'm going to do just that now. So she is Regan Berkley, regional wildlife manager. She works out of the Idaho Fish and Game office in McCall. So for this day and every day. Thank you for that and for this particular day. Thanks for giving us some time.

BERKLEY: Thank you very much.

Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren

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