Committee considers non-lethal deer management techniques
Fairfield city workers removed four deer carcasses from residents’ lawns this week, responding to bewildered homeowners who reported the animals wandering onto their lawns and dying. Chief of police Julie Harvey said the incidents were likely the result of vehicle collisions where the deer were not killed on impact.
Harvey’s accounts underscored the need to address Fairfield’s deer problem at a Public Safety and Transportation Committee meeting Thursday evening at Fairfield City Hall.
While a city deer hunt has been the focus of committee members’ discussions in recent months, responses from the community have led them to consider non-lethal tactics.
Fairfield resident Nikki Weaver, who stated having 15 years experience resolving wildlife conflicts, presented her research of non-lethal alternatives. Weaver proposed the city invest in a deer collision-avoidance system to be installed along highways called DeerDeter Wildlife Crossing Guard.
According to the New Jersey company selling the product, JAFA Technologies, Inc., the system consists of a string of units placed every 50 to 100 feet along roadways, which are activated by approaching headlights. The units set off an audible alarm and strobe light, causing deer and other animals to freeze or run the other way in time for vehicles to pass safely. Each unit is solar-powered, which Weaver said would cut down on maintenance costs of the system.
JAFA Technologies, Inc. said testing of 10,000 units of the latest model in the United States and in Europe resulted in a 70 to 90 percent decrease in animal-vehicle collisions.
“It is a very sophisticated system,” said Weaver. “I see this as an opportunity for Fairfield to be on the cutting edge.”
Weaver believed insurance companies such as State Farm Insurance would be willing to provide funding to cities to launch a pilot program to test the system’s effectiveness.
“Insurance companies spend a lot of money in Iowa on deer vehicle collisions,” she said. “They’re very interested in this system.”
While older versions of DeerDeter cost $150 per unit, Weaver estimated the new model to cost $60-70 per unit, or $5,000 per mile of road.
Weaver said the city would need to provide the insurance company three years of collision data from Fairfield, including location of the accident, time of day, and damage incurred. Then the company could pilot the system on a roadway with a high record of accidents.
“We need statistics to justify the expense,” she said.
Police chief Julie Harvey provided the city with record of eight deer vehicle collisions within city limits in 2012, and of 30 in 2011. However, the chart did not include the detailed collision report.
Harvey recommended the committee contact local insurance companies for details of collision reports and for a more accurate number of accidents. She said the police department only records accidents when action is taken by a police officer, such as to kill the wounded deer or to remove a carcass from the road.
“For every accident we hear about, I’d bet there’s one or two more we don’t hear of,” she said.
Harvey also said it took her officers six hours to comb through 1500 police reports to share statistics with the city.
City administrator Kevin Flanagan said the city would pursue whatever action necessary to get the most accurate statistics on deer collisions.
Weaver’s other suggestions included posting more deer crossing signage in town, and better street lighting at night.
She also proposed a solution to keep deer and other wildlife out of people’s gardens. The product, called ScareCrow, is a motion activated sprinkler, but with a high-pressure water stream and loud alarm. Weaver said she’s had success with the device in her own yard, and costs $50-70.
While committee member Connie Boyer said Weaver’s ideas were “intriguing,” she expressed concern the deer population would continue to expand without implementing a hunt.
She and committee chairwoman Susan Silvers both had received enough negative feedback about a city hunt to explore and fully research the non-lethal methods.
“I’ve had more contact from people who don’t want the hunt,” said Silvers.
Boyer said residents expressed concerns to her about safety for humans if hunting was allowed within the city and of animal suffering. But she said proper education could ease fears. Boyer admitted she objected at first when Jefferson County Park approved bow hunting in 2007, because it was somewhere she frequently walked.
“Once I learned more about it, I thought ‘This seems ok,’” she said.
Council member Michael Halley said a meeting with DNR wildlife depredation biologist Greg Harris answered some residents concerns.
Aside from a recent accident where a bow hunter died after falling from a tree stand, Harris said no one had been hurt in the 18 communities with city hunts overseen by the DNR.
He also said requiring a proficiency test for hunters addresses issues of animal suffering. He said if an arrow pierces the chest cavity of a deer, it should die within 10 seconds.
When Halley asked Harris about non-lethal techniques, he responded, “We manage deer by killing them.”
Halley said the full council will have a chance to ask Harris questions at Tuesday’s city council meeting.
Silvers said Harris’s visit shows the city’s seriousness about making an educated decision.
“It is unusual for a DNR representative to come to a city council meeting,” she said.
The committee also had spoken with several city residents with property on the outskirt of town who had requested their land be considered as part of the city hunt.
Weaver countered the DNR’s argument, saying she’d read reports and watched videos from other cities across Iowa of deer wandering the city with “arrows sticking out of their butts.”
“You can’t guarantee people are going to hunt in that responsible way,” she said.
Chairwoman Susan Silvers said they are equally considering lethal and non-lethal deer management plans at this point.
“I see this as a marathon, not a sprint,” she said.
Silvers said the city plans to research accident statistics within city limits and the efficacy of alternatives before they reach a decision.