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Davis Journal

What to do with deer in your yard

Sep 01, 2022 02:32PM ● By Tom Haraldsen

Every year, residents along the benches of Davis, Salt Lake, Weber and Utah Counties share a common problem – deer coming into their yards, eating from their gardens and causing mostly minor damage. Every year, residents call their city leaders or state officials seeking help or answers as to why these deer can’t be captured and returned to the wilds.

It’s been worse this year, as the state’s ongoing drought has led to more wildlife searching for food and water. This affects deer in particular, as the limited availability of sustenance leads to a reduced number of newborn fawns, and fewer of those who are born survive the first year. This also affects the number of huntable deer in the fall. The challenge is knowing what property owners can do to combat the situation, and it starts with both our gardens and our desire to help these deer.

“The best way you can help wildlife is by letting animals stay wild,” Utah Division of Wildlife Resources Wildlife Section Chief Covy Jones said. “Don’t approach them, and don’t try to feed them. These animals have evolved to be able to survive numerous weather conditions and to make it on their own. Often people’s good intentions wind up doing more harm than good for the wildlife. It can also be really dangerous when deer, moose or bears become habituated and lose their fear of people.”

The deer, in fact, have become domesticated – used to urban environments – and don’t do well when relocated into non-urban areas. DWR officials have stopped translocation efforts due in part to the spread of chronic wasting disease, a fatal contagious neurological disease that affects deer, elk and moose. The disease has been spreading throughout many states across the U.S. Currently, the disease has a very low prevalence rate in Utah deer populations compared to neighboring states like Colorado and Wyoming. 

The division had started an urban deer program in 2014 as a way to give cities the ability to deal with ever-increasing deer/human conflicts in expanding urban areas. The program gave municipalities two main removal options: lethal removal and non-lethal removal (by capturing and relocating the deer). But the relocation part of that program has been stopped.

“We started a pilot program for translocations and further research because of public requests,” DWR wildlife coordinator Mike Wardle said. “The pilot was planned to last until we could establish the full cost and the survival rates compared to the risks associated with relocating deer from cities.”

After weighing the benefits and risks associated with the non-lethal removal option, the DWR made the decision to discontinue the translocation part of the urban deer program. Research also showed that the translocation efforts didn’t significantly change public feedback regarding conflicts with urban deer.

So how can residents reduce conflicts with deer in their gardens? The DWR has sent out a few tips for gardeners:

• Building an 8-foot fence around your garden or yard is the most effective method, and is often the only reliable way to keep deer out of your garden.

• Another fairly effective technique is to install a motion-activated sprinkler.

• You can also try planting unpalatable vegetation around the perimeter of your garden to deter deer from eating additional plants.

“If you notice deer or elk that look sickly, are injured or are acting aggressively, you should report it to the nearest DWR office,” Jones said. “If you encounter a cougar that has killed something in a neighborhood or yard – or it is exhibiting aggressive or threatening behavior – you should report it. If you see a bear in a residential area within the foothills or canyons, you should only contact the DWR if the animal is being aggressive or if it is getting into trash, fruit trees or causing damage. You should definitely report a bear that has wandered into lower-elevation areas and is within city limits or in a heavily-populated area.”λ