Helena urban deer survey wraps up showing "the program is taking effect"

Deer Survey 2023
Posted at 5:24 PM, Oct 20, 2023
and last updated 2023-10-20 19:24:08-04

HELENA — Well, it's that time again... The Helena Police Department's (HPD) Urban Wildlife Animal Control combed through the city, on a six-day venture to get a better understanding of the deer population within city limits.

For six nights from 9 p.m. until 2 a.m. Sean McCarthy and Roy Tannehill ride around the city a pre-determined route, recording deer populations for the deer survey.

"So the deer survey, by doing the count, it has several benefits. One of the biggest ones obviously, is it allows us to get a determination of how many deer we have per square mile in the city," said McCarthy.

2023 Deer Survey Photograph

By recording the number of deer they saw, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) biologists then use that data to get an idea of how many deer live in city limits and how to manage that population.

"Finding a way to live together is kind of the goal with this, and if we can kind of keep them fearful so that they don't get too used to our presence, that's another one of those things that we're hoping to achieve with doing the deer culling, as well as our year-round management," said McCarthy.

For the Deer Survey, HPD's Animal Control coordinates and contributes with local businesses and non-profits across Helena.

"Biologist at FWP, to the game wardens at FWP, to the Chronic Wasting Disease team, Old Salt is also is doing our meat processing for us," said McCarthy, "So we deal with Old Salt co-op, we deal with food share, we deal with the, The Montana Food Bank for the state level with it, and then we have the city commissioners that we answer to and then of course the citizens of Helena."

When that number is too high within an urban population, it can cause a multitude of issues for the people and the deer.

"When we get a call for service to injured deer or deer that's been struck by a vehicle, I would say 90% of those calls come in on the west side of town," said McCarthy.

Oversized deer populations can also cause issues like property damage and diseases such as Chronic Wasting Diseases.

"We want to keep our community safe even for humans as well as the animals. Also property damage as well because if you have an overabundance, they're going to you're going to have some property damage, you know, animal behavior, fighting with each other or whatever, jumping fences, breaking fences, stuff like that," said McCarthy.

McCarthy believes that the deer population is becoming more manageable again, seeing fewer numbers this year than in years past.

"Our highest number in one night was 95 deer. I think our lowest was 50/51 deer. Again, that's pretty significantly lower. Last year, we were over 100 almost every night going one direction and in that 80 to 90 go in the other direction. So pretty significant change there," said McCarthy.

2023 Deer Survey Photograph 2

According to McCarthy, this year's number of average deer found per night was about 20 to 30 less compared to last year, and is seeing progress with the city's deer population.

"That 20 to 30 deer less per night is positive to us showing that the program is taking effect," said McCarthy, "Even the stuff that we've tried to do outside the deer culling program, monitoring and managing these deer, besides just calling them, I believe is taking effect. Some of the things that we've observed this year that we haven't in the last was that the deer that we did come across seem to be skittish. Uh, when our spotlights would hit them, they'd scatter and run a lot more compared to the years in the past."

The FWP is currently processing the results from the deer survey for 2023.