Drought driving deer into town

Hunter Herbaugh Ranger-review Staff Writer
Thursday, October 21, 2021
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As dry conditions leave fewer options for food, deer are making themselves at home all over the community this year, even helping themselves to an early morning snack of plants on this porch as captured by a security camera at the home of Bill and Terrie Miller on East Williams Street.

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The above map outlines the boundaries of the Glendive Deer Management Hunt. A full color version of the map depicting areas in which archery hunting is allowed is available at Glendive City Hall.

While deer have always been a common sight in town, it has not been difficult to notice that there has been a significant concentration of them in city limits this year. By and large, the deer that have taken up residence in the city are most notably a nuisance, as they eat through home gardens and have drivers acting with extra vigilance, particularly at night.

That doesn’t mean they haven’t caused issues. According to Glendive Police Department records, there were three reported vehicle accidents within city limits over the summer where deer were involved.

This infestation of deer may be another issue rising from the extreme drought that has gripped the area, according to Fish, Wildlife and Parks Region 7 Biologist Melissa Foster. The dry conditions were exacerbated by high temperatures most of the summer, resulting in forage becoming hard to find for wildlife.

Overall, she noted that the deer population in the region does appear to be above average, though not to any significant degree. Rather, she believes the deer are concentrating in town as they search for food, adding that reports of increased deer populations within city limits have also popped up elsewhere in the region, including towns like Ekalaka.

“I suspect the drought has a lot to do with that. With conditions being kind of tough out in the hills, town represents a little bit of optimism, with food, and people are watering their gardens, watering their yards. I suspect that’s just really attractive, all those ornamental plants and things,” Foster said. “The Glendive North area is above longterm average still... but not terribly so, I think we were down a little bit from the previous year in our spring survey flights. So mule deer are doing well in this part of the world. As you go further south in Region 7, towards Wyoming and the Dakotas, numbers get a little, not necessarily bad, but a lower long-term average.”

Since the drought has taken away much of game’s opportunities for nutrition, Foster noted this will likely be a hard winter for deer populations and she expects losses will be inevitable. This is in addition to other problems she said are in the area, such as an outbreak of Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease among whitetail deer.

So far though, Foster said there has been no instances of Chronic Wasting Disease detected among the deer population in the Glendive area. However, she noted that it has been found in the surrounding areas, so any instances of disease among the deer population, or any other irregularities, should be reported.

“I expect we’ll see some losses this winter no matter what,” she said. “We’ve had a fairly widespread EHD outbreak this fall, that’s a pretty normal thing for our neck of the woods... there’s spots where it’s really bad and spots where the impacts have been pretty minimal. It seems like the more people know what it is, the less they call us, but I’m always interested to get those calls and kind of know what people are seeing in their back yard, because obviously I can’t be everywhere at once. That helps me understand the severity of the outbreak, for sure.”

The city has had problems with large infestations of deer in the past, so this situation may seem familiar to those who remember those times. However, the city council began approving annual deer management bow hunts starting in 2010 with the goal of putting the deer population in city limits in check. Those hunts have proven effective, though participation has been falling in recent years.

It is unclear if the increase of in-town deer has inspired more people to participate in the hunt this year though. Foster noted her belief that it could happen, but according to the city’s Administrative Clerk Jessica Reitz there has only been one in-town license sold so far. However, she noted that the city actually only provides hunting permission for a few small pockets of land, as Makoshika State Park and the Bureau of Land Management provide permission to their respective hunting areas. Private land owners can also give permission to hunters themselves.

Reitz further added that this just isn’t the peak time of year for the in-town hunt, saying that most hunters start showing up between November and February. The city hunt runs from September to mid-February.

“In years past from what I’ve noticed we don’t see much action here until hunters come and sign late November-February when all other hunting seasons have closed,” she said.

FWP performs survey flights in the spring, so the overall impact of this winter on the local deer population should be found out then. However, Foster noted that FWP will be setting up a game-check station at Hollicker Lake on the first and last Sundays of the general hunting season to monitor harvested game for disease.

General hunting season begins Oct. 23 and ends Nov. 28, meaning the check stations will be set up on Oct. 24 and Nov. 28.

To report suspected diseased wildlife, Foster can be reached at (406)796-5766.

Reach Hunter Herbaugh at rrreporter@rangerreview.com.