Town considers deer options, no-feeding ordinance

Ideas have ranged from birth control to hunting to water guns to a ban on feeding the wildlife.

Coupeville leaders and residents have explored a range of solutions to deal with deer overpopulation and domestication of the animals.

Ideas have ranged from birth control to hunting to water guns to a ban on feeding the wildlife.

Mayor Molly Hughes and the town council continued a discussion at a council meeting last week about the excess numbers of does and bucks. The mayor presented research to the council about possible solutions for thinning the herd.

Citizens sent Hughes articles about birth control methods used on the East Coast’s whitetail deer population, but it’s not something that could be done for the Coupeville deer. Hughes reported that the state Department of Fish and Wildlife said there’s nothing currently available for the resident ungulates who roam the streets of the town.

“It’s not just something we can decide to do,” Hughes said. “It hasn’t been used in Washington state, it hasn’t been used on blacktail deer.”

Hughes said efforts to provide birth control injections or sterilizations for the deer are expensive, costing up to about $1,000 per deer to administer. The deer on birth control would need to be tracked and booster shots would need to be provided in following years.

Hunting is another option. The mayor said she looked into three different programs and ruled out two of the three.

Initially, Hughes said she thought bow hunting might be a safer alternative to shooting guns inside town limits, but through research she discovered “all kinds of horrifying pictures on the internet of deer running around with arrows permanently lodged in their bodies.”

Similarly, the mayor found trapping and killing to be an “ugly” and “extreme” response to the overpopulation problem.

“I don’t think the people in our community would feel this is sporting or humane,” she said.

Instead, Hughes recommended the state Fish and Wildlife Department’s private land access program, which works in partnership with regular hunters and willing property owners.

The department takes care of releasing special hunting permits for venators to hunt on properties with the permission of landowners.

Most of the council members were in support of exploring a hunting program, but Councilmember Michael Moore said he hasn’t decided whether he likes the idea.

“We’re an urban area, like it or not,” Moore said. “I personally don’t like the idea of guns going off here in the neighborhood.”

The mayor agreed to further research the Fish and Wildlife hunting program and to contact some property owners to see if they would be interested.

Hughes also discussed a draft ordinance for Coupeville based on a no-feeding wildlife ordinance the city of Bellingham had created.

Besides deer, the ordinance could include a ban on feeding feral cats. A noticeable exemption would be feeding the birds.

Hughes acknowledged that the ordinance most likely won’t have a large impact on the overpopulation problem. The ordinance is intended to discourage the domestication of the animals.

Councilmember Rick Walti said he would prefer if first offenses could result in a warning, rather than a fine, pointing out that feeders of wildlife may be visitors from outside of the area.

Following a second offense, the council members agreed, a $150 fine would be sufficient.

The mayor expressed nervousness about the upcoming fawning season. She said generational change might be needed, but the town can start by not feeding the newborns that are coming.

“I know the newspaper will probably have a field day with us, but it is a legitimate, ongoing problem in our town for many different reasons and it is definitely getting worse,” Hughes said.

One resident noted the deer have resorted to breaking and entering. She surmised that a deer was spooked by its own reflection in a glass window in her home, causing it to break and the deer to “troop through.”

The homeowner said she uses a water gun on aggressive deer that do not keep their distance.

No deer lovers spoke in support of the creatures during the meeting.

A public hearing on the proposed ordinance will be held at an upcoming town council meeting.