Oh, deer! What should Council do?
Recently, Council discussed the ever-growing deer problem in Worthington. Though there does not appear to be any physical injury to people, there does appear to be a slight increase in vehicle incidents related to deer, and a noticeable increase of property damage (namely gardens).
Three years ago, I attended an ODNR event regarding deer management in cities, which was also attend by city staff Ethan Barnhart - who has become the staff expert on all things deer-related.
The recent discussion revolved around the idea of proposing an anti-feeding ordinance to reduce the availability of deer food. There are some common suburban deer foods that can harm the deer (that’s an entirely different subject).
Though probably not effective in reducing the number of deer in Worthington, it is proven that deer nutrition is linked to population increase. Meaning, if we feed the deer more, they will likely have more offspring, creating more deer. So, the logical conclusion is an anti-feeding ordinance may not reduce the deer population, it will likely prevent them from having more offspring than they naturally would have.
The question of enforceability is valid. Though an ordinance would probably be connected to some sort of warning and/or fine structure, the main hope is to give harmed (or potentially harmed) neighbors the ability to cite public policy so neighbors don’t get the urge to feed deer and invite the hungry critters into the neighborhood to destroy gardens and scare household pets.
Along with this discussion, I would like to propose the idea that it should be the city’s responsibility (financially or physically) to remove dead deer carcasses from a resident’s property. I know of at least two scenarios in the recent years where a resident has had to deal with (and pay for) removal of deer carcass simply because the deer chose a random property to end its journey.
The longer-term solution is something we also need to discuss as a Council and as a community. From the ODNR informational event, I learned that there is really only one way to reduce deer population in a place like Worthington: a culling program with sharpshooting. To learn more about why there is only one solution, request the deer report from the city.
Personally, I have no strong stance on the idea. I grew up on a farm in rural Ohio and hunting deer was a part of life. In the city, there is an understandable pause to this approach for a few reasons.
First, deer are living creatures and some people have a moral reason to protect them from harm. It can be an emotional conversation whenever talking about harming an animal - whether a nuisance or not. I respect that and think that needs to be a large part of the discussion.
Second, even though they are increasingly a nuisance, they don’t appear to be harming people. So, does simply being a nuisance constitute a culling program?
Third, the logistics of a culling program are limiting. There are likely only three physical locations in the city that would be safe to host a culling program. Two of those properties are privately owned and would require property owner cooperation. The one public land is highly trafficked and would require major logistics to keep the public safe.
Personally, I would like to bring this to the public in a community awareness effort, potentially leading to a citywide vote. The first steps of public outreach should cover all aspects of deer management, including simple steps to reduce deer invitations through an anti-feeding program.
I invite your preliminary thoughts and feedback at this survey link here.