Residents air thoughts on deer overpopulation at meeting
Keith Bunselmeyer of Shawnee said when he first moved to the area 10 years ago, he put deer in the same category as teddy bears.
Living on 70th Street near Shawnee Mission Park, he used to get excited when he’d see a deer near his home. Now, as he finds large groups of them tearing up his yard, and as he notices signs the deer are weak and starving, his feelings are different.
“I’ve had to take them out of the category of teddy bears, and I’ve had to put them in the same category as mosquitoes because they are a nuisance to me,” he said.
Bunselmeyer was one of more than 40 residents who took time Saturday at the Shawnee Civic Centre to tell the Johnson County Park and Recreation District what they thought should be done about the deer overpopulation in Shawnee Mission Park. While some said they would prefer a solution that didn’t involve killing the deer, about two thirds of those who spoke said they were not opposed to allowing a hunt to cull the herd.
Monday’s meeting briefly went over a Biodiversity Policy and Resource Management Plan formulated for county park lands, but it focused on the newly-formed Nuisance Wildlife Control Plan, largely formulated by Charlie Lee, wildlife specialist with Kansas State University Research and Extension. Of the 100 residents who showed up to the meeting, about 40 signed up to make a statement of three minutes or less to the Johnson County Park and Recreation District’s Board of Park and Recreation Commissioners.
Michael Meadors, director of the park and recreation district, said the district has researched the deer population and its effects and has been advised by communities and experts that have dealt with similar situations. The Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks states there should be about 30 deer per square mile, and with an estimated 400 deer in the two-square-mile park, Meadors said the board needed to take action.
“To do nothing would, in fact, be inhumane,” he said.
Lee presented information about how the herd has negatively affected the ecology of the park and possible population control measures. He said most nonlethal options would not be 100 percent affective, while lethal options could be costly.
He said trapping and relocating, which would cost at least $400 per deer, has a 30 percent mortality rate. That option also is not currently allowed in the state of Kansas.
Lee said sharpshooting could cost $150 to $400 per deer removed, while trapping and euthanizing costs more than $300 per deer and often is not considered humane. He said controlled hunting may be the most effective control technique and discussed bowhunting.
Lee also discussed fertility control agents, which are most effectively given through shot or dart guns, but the process could take several years before populations decline significantly. It also could cost $200 to $1,000 per deer.
Many of those who spoke before the park board discussed the dangers deer were bringing to humans outside the park. Shawnee residents Phillip Feil, president of the Red Oak Hills Homes Association, Roger Cook and Ascension Hernandez discussed dangerous car accidents caused by deer, asking the board to take action quickly.
“Let’s not be having this same discussion next spring,” Cook said.
Many also spoke of the increasing ticks in the area, especially those who lived near the park, and Lyme disease concerns. One woman who lives near the park said she is covered in ticks every time she mows her yard, and she sees deer in her yard nearly blinded by ticks near their eyes.
One woman recounted a run-in with a somewhat aggressive deer at the park, saying she thinks the deer are beginning to lose their fear of humans.
Most residents against killing the deer said it would ruin the atmosphere of the park. J.R. Hodgons of Lenexa said he was against hunting in the park.
“What we’re talking about is killing innocent deer and deer families,” he said, saying the district should try nonlethal options first. “That is our obligation; we’re responsible to the deer. It’s a moral decision you have to make.”
Alta Lantz of Shawnee said the only reason to go to the park was to enjoy nature.
“The real nuisance animals I think are the people,” she said. “…. There just seems to be a growing disregard for animals.”
Some speakers said they thought bow hunting was unnecessary and cruel and worried that if a deer was not immediately killed by an arrow shot, it could run away and suffer a slow death. They said they didn’t want park visitors finding deer killed by arrows.
But several bowhunters spoke to the board, saying bowhunting was humane and professional hunters could shoot to kill quickly. R.J. Jubber of Eudora, who represented an Olathe-based bowhunting group, said the form of hunting had an accident rate of .09 percent, lower than that of little league baseball.
A representative of the city of Lenexa said the city would like to see the district use professional sharpshooters to cull the herd. But Lloyd Fox, big-game program coordinator for the state, said sharpshooting has never been used in the state, so regulations for such a hunt would have to be developed before it could take place.
Another speaker suggested that if a hunt took place, the meat from the deer could be sold to help cover costs incurred by the county, but Fox said state law does not allow the sale of deer meat from a hunt.
After the public comment period, the park board asked questions of experts present at the meeting. They asked if the entire park would have to be closed if a hunt was conducted, and Fox said he didn’t think it would be necessary because bow-hunting can be done in a very safe and effective way in a limited area. The board also discussed what forms of hunting were legally allowed in Shawnee and Lenexa, since each city contains about half of the park.
James Azeltine, past board chair, said any solution the board decides on will have to be approved by Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, and he did not expect the board would take any action on the matter at its next regular board meeting, May 20.