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Sunday, July 5, 2020

City Council holds educational forum on deer ban ordinance

Photo by Grace McCarthy // The Western Front

By Grace McCarthy

Around 30 residents attended an educational forum on a new deer and racoon feeding ban at Bellingham City Hall on April 16.

The ordinance went into effect November 2017 after passing 6-1 by Bellingham City Council. Black-tailed deer were the primary concern for the ordinance as residents became more concerned with their neighbors feeding the deer.

The City Council has received approximately 40 complaints since the issue gained notoriety in 2017, Mark Gardner, senior legislative policy analyst for the City Council, said.

A $250 fine attached to the ordinance is only to be used as a last resort, Gardner said. Education and spreading awareness are first on the agenda for 2018. Only residents who are repeat offenders will be subject to the fine.

According to the City of Bellingham’s website, bird feeders, landscaping used as food and food intended for domestic or farm animals are exempt from the ban.

According to Gardner, deer that are fed will congregate in large groups, causing risks to both humans and deer. This heightens their impact on landscape and gardening, causes digestive disorders for the deer and spreads disease.

Cole Caldwell, supervisory biologist for the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife, also spoke at the forum. Caldwell informed the public that deer can attract predators such as black bears and cougars.

“People think if they didn’t feed the deer, they would all die,” Gardner said. “So hopefully we are educating them that they don’t need to do that. The deer know how to get food.”

Gardner said there have been no scientific surveys to measure deer populations in Bellingham. However, there are early talks of conducting a deer census to track populations over time, possibly in partnership with Huxley College.

“The issue is that there are obviously a lot of deer and, regardless of the exact number, feeding makes it worse,” Gardner said.

According to Gardner, the City of Bellingham and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife are the entities that have enforcement powers, depending on the issue and the magnitude involved.

Residents expressed the need for more collaboration between city departments on this issue. Concern also arose surrounding habitat fragmentation, the reduction or separation of an organism’s natural environment. In this case, roads are a big culprit in deer getting hit by vehicles.

Heidi Zeretzke, Western lead gardener, is no stranger to deer on Western’s campus. Spring beckons brazen deer to campus rose gardens.

To mitigate this, Zeretzke said she and her team spray an egg-water solution on the most popular plants and occasionally wrap the tree trunks.

“They just stroll down the street, in front of the bus, or across the Old Main lawn, and they just don’t seem to have any fear of people,” Zeretzke said.

She said deer are most pesky around the Ridgeway residence halls due to the native plants there.

David Wallin, department chair of Western’s environmental sciences, agrees with Zeretzke that urban deer don’t have many natural predators.

“My guess is that there are as many, or more, deer here than there ever have been, historically,” Wallin said.

Wallin doesn’t see deer as a problem, but understands people shouldn’t be feeding the deer. He imagines if one of his neighbors was feeding deer and there were 20 to 30 deer in his yard, he’d be upset because of the effect on his landscaping.

For Gardner, there is no perfect solution in urban wildlife management.

“We’re learning and trying to work together, and hopefully we’ll come up with some things that make it all work a little bit better for everybody,” Gardner said.

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