State tells town and country to stop relocation of deer ;
possible transmission of disease is cited

December 19, 2001 St. Louis Post-Dispatch by Marianna Riley
Town and Country will not be allowed to relocate deer for the first time in four winters after a decision Tuesday by the Missouri Conservation Commission.

In a unanimous vote by teleconference, the four commissioners agreed that the city could continue trapping deer in the coming winter but may not relocate them elsewhere in the state. One factor cited was the chance of spreading disease. Members said they would like to work with Town and Country to develop other methods of control. They would allow the city to trap and euthanize deer, with the meat to be donated to a hunger program. Town and Country Mayor Richard "Skip" Mange protested the decision.

"We've been led to believe that we could go forward with this, and we've invested much time and money," he told the commission. "If you rescind your permission, we'll have nothing accomplished this year. At least let us finish up this year."

Mange said his community had held "discussion after discussion" about what to do with its deer population, and that relocation was the residents' preferred method of deer management. "It is not acceptable to proceed with lethal means," he said.

The relocation program has been controversial from its inception. It began in December 1998 after a survey showed that a majority of the city's residents wanted the deer population reduced. The Department of Conservation approved the procedure as an experiment.

In three years, 233 deer have been trapped and relocated, which city officials said stabilized the herd but did not reduce it. This was viewed by many residents as proof that the program could work. Many reported seeing fewer deer this fall than in past years.

Others see the program as a failure and claim they are seeing as many deer as ever. One family recently reported counting 30 in their back yard in one day.

John Smith, deputy director of the Department of Conservation, agreed with them in a recommendation to the commission. He said department biologists had recommended removing 120 does per year for two to three years to reduce the population by about 50 percent. But in the three years of trapping, only 151 female deer were removed.

Smith's report also cited a high mortality rate for the deer that were transported.

A major factor in the vote was the chance of spreading a disease called "chronic wasting disease," which the U.S. Department of Agriculture has declared a national emergency. It is to wild animals what "mad cow disease" is to cattle.

Officials said there have been no confirmed cases of the disease in Missouri, but it has been detected in wild elk and deer in Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska and Kansas. Officials here are being "extremely vigilant" in protecting Missouri's deer, Smith said.

Trapping in Town and Country was expected to begin late this month and continue through March, and the city had already contracted with Holterra Wildlife Management of Nashville, Tenn., and Carbondale, Ill., to both trap and transport the deer.

"We will have to examine our options," Mange said. "We can trap and euthanize or not do anything. That decision will be made by the board."

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