HELENA — “I’ll watch out my window and there’s a herd that crosses once or twice a day,” Helena Police Chief Steve Hagen said. “They’ll walk right through our parking lot, right over to Wells Fargo and start eating their shrubs.”
After a two-year hiatus, the city of Helena brought back the Urban Deer Survey to get an understanding of just how many deer live in city limits, and if the population needs to be reduced.
Certain Helena Police Department officers drove a pre-determined route through the city over the past few weeks, and tallied the number of deer they saw. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks biologists then use that data to get an idea of how many deer live in city limits.
The current established target population density is 25 deer per square mile within city limits.
“Deer can exist at a very low density, and deer can exist at a very high density without any biological impacts, without any negative consequences to their genetic wellbeing,” Montana FWP management bureau chief Brian Wakeling said.
Wildlife officials say deer thrive in places with greenery, water and few predators, so the city of Helena provides a nice place for them to live and their population to grow.
A large population of deer in an urban area can cause issues for both people and deer.
“We are frequently going out to deer that get caught in people’s fences, that get caught in railings, that get injured,” Hagen said.
Hagen said the department also sees collisions between cars and deer.
Although deer can be a nuisance, people enjoy seeing them, even in urban areas.
“We want to be able to see deer, have them available to us. Wildlife gives value to our lives,” Wakeling said. “But, at the same time, we don’t want to have so many that they are a public safety risk.”
A large concentration of deer can also cause problems for the deer—especially when it comes to diseases like Chronic Wasting Disease.
Wakeling said CWD has not been detected in Helena yet, and wildlife officials hope to keep it that way.
“We certainly want to minimize that risk,” Wakeling said. “Keeping populations at lower densities certainly does favor keeping transmission rates at a minimum.”
When it comes to urban deer, the Urban Deer Survey is all about achieving a balance for people and deer.