Department of Fish and Game representative Patrick Foy theorizes there are two extremes in Rancho Murieta -- 5 to 10 percent of residents love deer and other wildlife and encourage them to become pests by feeding them and the same percentage who "can't stand them."
Patrick Foy

Some advice on co-existing with wildlife

Published Tuesday, May 9, 2006

If residents would just stop feeding the animals, it could go a long way towards solving the community's wildlife problems.

That was the message Patrick Foy, biologist and public information officer with the Department of Fish and Game, offered at a meeting at the Rancho Murieta Association Building last week. The River Valley Garden Club organized the special session in response to gardeners' complaints and reports of aggressive behavior by deer and turkeys.

Feeding is a problem that goes beyond lush landscapes that feature roses and vegetable gardens, Foy said. Deliberately feeding the animals by putting out grain piles and salt licks can have serious consequences for public safety and for the deer themselves.

"The unnatural concentration of animals facilitates the transfer of disease" and can lead to "a really, really bad outbreak," he explained. The practice can attract mountain lions, the natural predator of deer.

Feeding wild animals is also against the law. Foy said the state law is designed to be weak to limit prosecution to "only the most egregious cases" that have serious public safety implications.

Nevertheless, a Fish and Game press release from last October that Foy handed out warns "feeding deer is a dangerous and illegal practice" and reports three deer attacks that occurred within a month in the state. One of the incidents was the state's first fatality in a deer attack, a San Diego County man who died several weeks after being gored in the mouth by a buck he startled in his backyard.

"These events are extremely unusual but not unheard of," Craig Stowers, coordinator of the agency's deer program, is quoted as saying. "Whenever deer begin to associate people with food, problems are guaranteed to occur. … Like most species of wildlife, they are best viewed at a distance – it's safer for everyone and everything involved."

Foy theorizes that there are two extremes in this community -- 5 to 10 percent of the residents who love deer and other wildlife and encourage them to become pests by feeding them and the same percentage who "can't stand them." Between the two extremes are the majority of residents who "don't have too much trouble" co-existing with wildlife, Foy said.

This accommodation is probably easier for residents on the South because solid fencing is more effective at keeping deer out if it's high enough to interfere with their ability to look before they leap. Foy described fencing as the only way to keep deer out of yards.

Foy suggested that newcomers to the community may be most susceptible to overstepping the line that needs to be maintained since many are seeing wildlife at close range for the first time and fail to understand the consequences of feeding the animals.

Bird feeders also attract deer and turkeys.

Foy, who conducted the recent successful effort to free a deer from the metal yoke of a large coffee can, recalled that the first pictures a resident provided showed the deer craning its neck to eat out of a bird feeder.

"Rancho Murieta has an extraordinary amount of food available" and that leads to overpopulation, he explained. This same overabundance of deer exists in the foothills golf community of Lake of the Pines and along the American River Parkway, Foy said.

Although it's a common request, the department doesn't have the capacity to "relocate animals that are causing problems," he noted. The agency has 200 game wardens for the entire state and is "stretched thin …We do our very best."

To deal with aggressive wildlife, Foy recommends carrying a "super-loud, shrill" whistle like the Acme Thunderbird or the Fox 40 model used by the National Basketball Association or employing an open umbrella to discourage turkeys.

"Any time you're fearful of your safety from both domestic dogs and wild animals alike, our general recommendation … is to stand up tall, with arms outstretched and just shout aggressively and stand your ground."

Foy said there are times when wildlife is more likely to be aggressive. For tom turkeys and bucks, it's the breeding season. For females, it's when their young need their protection.

Suggested deterrents include motion-detecting sprinklers, fencing, chemical repellents and deer-resistant plantings.

Fish and Game's "A Gardener's Guide to Preventing Deer Damage" lists deer-resistant flowers and shrubs as well as repellents. Fish and Game's "Keep Me Wild" campaign offers guidelines and information about deer, mountain lions and coyotes.

Many in the 10-member audience seemed convinced that more drastic action was needed to deal with the large deer population and troublesome turkeys. One resident said he had been confronted by a turkey earlier in the day outside his home on Puerto Drive. The bird didn't go away until after he hit it in the head for a second time with one of his wife's golf clubs.

The resident added that turkeys have been harassing golfers on the Country Club courses.

Other audience members complained of koi-eating raccoons, roof-damaging squirrels, messy turkey vultures, and aggressive deer.

When asked about various measures for controlling the deer population, Foy said birth control is "extremely expensive and labor-intensive" because the deer have to be captured and implanted. The method has been used on closed herds on Angel Island.

Foy said bow and arrow hunting of does was "a very practical method" for reducing the deer population and permits can be obtained for a hunt, but typically "the public goes nuts" when a doe hunt is proposed.

An audience member remarked that Rancho Murieta "might be receptive" to such a measure at this point.
There are also turkey hunting options available, Foy said.

RMA Maintenance Manager Rod Hart, who was in the audience, said the RMA board would have to grant its permission to pursue those options.

Under the RMA non-architectural rules, Rancho Murieta is classified as a private refuge where the discharge of firearms or the taking of any mammal or bird is unlawful under Fish and Game Code Section 2017.

Hart said RMA workers are picking up about six dead deer a month in the community and it isn't always apparent what killed them. Foy suggested the deer could have sustained injuries in encounters with vehicles and said there is no disease outbreak currently in the deer population.

Some of the more grisly deer deaths in the community have been caused when deer became impaled on spiked wrought iron fencing. The fencing can be modified to cover the spikes and eliminate the hazard without total replacement of the fence.

Hart noted that "every year there are more reports" about aggressive deer behavior and he concluded that the community has to either "change the way we're doing things" or look into reducing the deer population.

During an audience discussion about live trapping, Hart said Maintenance has six traps that it lends to residents for capturing raccoons, and there is a waiting list for them. The raccoons are released outside of the community. The department also keeps the name of a trapper on file.

While Foy's talk centered on problematic wildlife, he took the opportunity to caution people who have bird feeders to keep them clean to prevent outbreaks of two prevalent bird diseases. "When you have these outbreaks, (bird feeders) really rapidly spread these diseases around. … We ask that people develop the habit of cleaning bird feeders" on a weekly basis using a 10-percent bleach solution to disinfect the feeder, he said.

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