When the Elizabeth Board of Trustees voted unanimously to initiate a deer management program in 2014, one of the many stipulations was that no taxpayer money could be used to fund the program; the cost must be borne entirely by the volunteer hunters who participated.
Initially, the program gave permission to five specially screened archery hunters to hunt within three designated areas inside the city limits under the strict control of the town and in partnership with Casey Westbrook of Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
In addition to donating time for the hunts, program volunteers were responsible for providing their own equipment as well as delivering donated animals to individual families or covering the expense of processing the meat for delivery to local food banks.
In that first year, the five participating hunters harvested nine deer and donated 325 pounds of venison.
In 2015, Westbrook and Elizabeth Town Administrator Dick Eason approached Brian Danforth, a participating hunter in the inaugural year, to step in as the volunteer program coordinator.
That year the deer management program expanded to include private property outside of Elizabeth, and though the amount of donated meat increased to over 1,200 pounds, so did the cost.
Between coordinating and responding to calls about injured wildlife, Danforth rolled up over 11,000 miles on his truck. The fuel costs alone totaled $1,831.
“With the program expanding, the guys are going to be traveling more, covering a larger area, instead of just the city of Elizabeth,” Danforth said. “We’re going to spread it (the cost) out throughout the eight of us this year. It will take a little bit of the financial burden off me.”
To help with costs, a GoFundMe fundraising website was set up, but Westbrook and Danforth also began exploring other ways to raise funds, with options ranging from forming a business to soliciting corporate sponsors.
To make donating more attractive to potential benefactors, Danforth started Wildlife, Health, Education and Management (WHEM), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Danforth expects final approval from the IRS this year, which will make any donations from 2015 tax-deductible.
Under WHEM’s guidelines, volunteer hunters will only be entitled to reimbursements for the costs associated with deer that are donated.
“If it’s one that they take for personal use, I’m not going to reimburse them for that license,” Danforth said.
With the success of the deer management program locally, the idea has caught the attention of leaders of municipalities in both Michigan and Oregon who are also dealing with growing deer populations.
“They’re excited about the fact that Elizabeth is successfully conducting a hunt within city limits and on less than five acres of land. There’s been a huge response from these guys,” Danforth said.
Though the immediate goal is to fund the program locally, Danforth sees the creation of WHEM as the focal point for a national effort.
“With the 501(c)(3) setup we’re able to assist other wildlife agencies who are setting up programs similar to ours in different states nationwide,” Danforth said. “The deer problem is so huge across the U.S., there is a great demand for us. It just comes down to finding the funding to help out other cities, towns, other entities.”
In addition to sponsoring deer management programs, WHEM is also dedicated to educating the public about the dangers of feeding wildlife.
Feeding any wildlife is illegal, but it can be especially lethal for deer. The sudden introduction of bird seed, hey, or corn into a deer’s winter diet frequently results in an extremely painful death from acute acidosis within 72 hours.
Feeding also draws high concentrations of animals to the feeding site, which not only poses a danger to humans from aggressive behavior, but also attracts the deer’s natural predators such as mountain lions.
According to the Mountain Lion Foundation, an adult lion has a range of around 100 square miles and will kill a deer every ten to fourteen days.
To avoid inadvertently feeding deer, WHEM recommends raising bird feeders to 10 feet, placing fencing or panels around haystacks, and not leaving easy access to corn or grain.
For more information or to donate to Wildlife, Health, Education and Management go to www.whem.co.