The Elizabeth Board of Trustees has moved forward with the town's Public Harvest Program, allowing private citizens to hunt deer within the town limits. In a regular meeting July 8, the trustees reviewed several options to address a growing number …
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The Elizabeth Board of Trustees has moved forward with the town's Public Harvest Program, allowing private citizens to hunt deer within the town limits. In a regular meeting July 8, the trustees reviewed several options to address a growing number of complaints regarding the deer population in the town.
Options developed in partnership with Casey Westbrook, district wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and the Elbert County Sheriff's Office include transplantation, fertility control, and culling deer within town limits. In a unanimous vote, the board opted for the Public Harvest Program for bow hunters.
According to Dick Eason, town administrator, the program is designed to manage deer populations within the town and is not a plan to exterminate them.
A public harvest does not mean residents will see skirmish lines of hunters clad in orange trolling through residential neighborhoods armed with high-powered hunting rifles. The hunt will be confined to three open spaces inside the town limits and only open to a select number of licensed bow hunters who pass a rigorous proficiency test developed by the town. Officials will assign each qualifying hunter a specific time slot in which to hunt in the designated areas.
Though the Elizabeth Town Council does not have the legal authority to create its own hunting season, it does have the power to authorize the discharge of weapons during an existing or a special season such as List C Licenses created for portions of Game Management Unit 104 in 2013. Town officials are working closely with Colorado Parks and Wildlife to either select or create a season most appropriate for the hunt before this fall's hunting seasons begin.
Jennifer Churchill, public information officer for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said that though this is a nationwide problem, the agency has maintained a rural ranching tradition when dealing with wildlife management, supporting local management. Any solution involving hunting must conform to existing hunting regulations and not include baiting or night hunts.
In addition, Churchill stressed that any measures to deal with wildlife populations must take into consideration the carrying capacity of the habitat. Carrying capacity refers to the maximum sustainable size of a population, limited by both biological and social components.
Biological carrying capacity is determined by an area's ability to support a given number of animals over a prolonged period and is based on the amount of cover, food, water and physical space. As populations exceed an area's biological carrying capacity, the overall health of the population declines, as more animals die from malnutrition and fawn survival rates decrease.
Social carrying capacity is limited by the human tolerance for a species. Defined as both the maximum and minimum deer populations a society will tolerate, social carrying capacity is influenced by negative and positive interactions and is as subjective as the individual having the encounter is. What one resident might view as a positive encounter could be interpreted as negative by another.
Not all residents are happy about the plan and several turned out on July 8 to express their opposition to a hunt. Amy Thomas, an Elizabeth resident, opposes any plan that includes killing the animals and questions the need to do anything at all.
“There are people here for the deer,” she said before the trustees' meeting. “I have roses that have been nibbled on, but there are all kinds of flowers that the deer don't eat.”
Some residents may be contributing to the deer problem by feeding the animals. As deer become accustomed to food provided by humans, they lose their natural fear and can become aggressive. According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, feeding deer to protect landscaping can actually make the problem worse, and it recommends using barriers, fencing or sprays to deter the animals.
In a memorandum prepared for the Board of Trustees, Eason notes that since feeding is not occurring in an obvious way, it is difficult for police to enforce the state and town ordnances prohibiting it.
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