August 1, 2007
The Villages cancel hunt to thin deer herd
New Plan - Options to keep animals away
A week of angry protests has killed a controversial plan to hire archers to thin a deer herd at The Villages gated adult community in San Jose.
On Tuesday, The Villages' two governing boards announced they are now pursuing non-lethal options to control the estimated 100 to 200 deer that wander into the sprawling upscale community nestled in the southeast foothills.
The decision followed hundreds of calls and e-mails to The Villages and California Department of Fish and Game officials, who were called everything from ''Bambi killers'' to wildlife haters -- and worse.
Now The Villages will explore options such as fencing and more deer-resistant landscaping to help deter the deer from munching on the lush landscape and possibly attracting predators. ''We should be protecting this rare environment in the hectic concrete part of Northern California and not destroying it because certain people are mad that their roses got eaten,'' resident Alexa Johnson said in e-mail hailing Tuesday's decision.
A short article in The Villages' community newspaper July 19 started the furor when it announced ''a very selective thinning of The Villages deer population will begin as soon as July 23.'' The method: bows and arrows. Many residents complained they had not been consulted. The uproar increased when the Mercury News publicized the plan to have hunters kill deer in the 1,000-acre community, delaying the hunt date two more times.
The newspaper then reported Saturday that the state Fish and Game deer program coordinator said killing a few deer to scare the herd farther into the hills -- and away from people's yards -- would be effective for only a few days or a few weeks at most. About 60 people showed up for a board of directors meeting of The Villages Golf and Country Club to weigh in on the deer debate -- one of two meetings Tuesday about the issue.
But before the gathering could heat up, board member Michael Kulakofsky announced The Villages has contracted with a local group experienced in dealing with wildlife problems -- without bows and arrows. He said the Little Blue Society -- a non-profit that tries to find ways humans and wildlife can co-exist -- will conduct a survey of the 1,000-acre property starting today. ''They specialize in working out non-lethal, long-term wildlife management plans,'' Kulakofsky told the group.
''Hopefully, it will be a long-range plan that everyone will be happy with.''
The community's management had said the 100 to 200 deer at the Villages were causing $10,000 a month in landscaping damage and posed a threat to residents, because they would attract predators. Numerous residents, however, have questioned that figure and urged board members to seek other solutions to the problem. At the afternoon meeting
Tuesday, however, one resident said killing eight deer would not be enough and advocating killing ''in the neighborhood of 50'' deer to diminish the threat to Villagers, as residents are called. And even then, 20 deer each year would have to be killed to keep the herd low enough, he said. Of the eight or so speakers, the majority were against killing any deer and asked for improved communication between residents and the governing boards. Several lauded both boards -- one governs the residences and the other governs the golf course and country club -- for coming together finally to work on the deer issue and quiet the public-relations fiasco.
''The only thing I'm asking you to talk about is how to broaden the base of people who are included'' in dealing with such issues, attorney and Villages resident Ned Hales said.
Resident Paul Masquelier said he and his wife often hike at The Villages and have seen fewer deer and other wildlife this year than in the past. ''Ten years ago, we'd see 12 to 15 deer,'' he said. ''In the last four months, we seldom see more than one deer.''
One of the club board directors tried to shift most of the heat onto the Fish and Game Department, which gave The Villages a permit to hunt the deer, but the department did not agree with that assessment. A Fish and Game biologist met with Villages officials in the spring to talk about deer on the property. The department granted the community a depredation permit, which allows for the killing of wild animals if they are causing damage.
The Villages said, and the biologist agrees, that the use of bow hunters was discussed. ''When we issue the depredation permits, we basically step away,'' said Steve Martarano, spokesman for Fish and Game.
The department is re-evaluating its policy for granting such permits because of the growing controversy over such hunts around the state. One resident questioned why there wasn't a similar uproar years ago over another wildlife problem. ''Why wasn't there the outcry when boar were killed on The Villages property with bows and arrows four or five years ago?'' June Hayes asked the board. No one had an answer.