Editor's note: This article is courtesy of Outdoor Guide Magazine,
in which it was originally published in 2001.
Outdoor Guide covers hunting, fishing, camping and boating in
Missouri and Illinois.
You simply cannot believe what they are doing to deer in Town & Country.
You may recall this is the St. Louis County suburban community which sought to deal with their deer overpopulation problem by the expensive and questionable practice of "trap and transplant."
The Missouri Conservation Commission granted them permission, based on using the opportunity to research the effects of trap and transplant on whitetails in Missouri.
During early 1999, 80 deer were captured. Each was fitted with a radio collar and released in a conservation area in southern Missouri.
Within a month, more than 20 percent of the relocated deer had died of an affliction called capture myopathy. This condition has long been known to wildlife managers, and is a common side effect of the stresses of capture and relocation.
It affects different species in different ways and to different degrees. Whitetail deer are exceptionally prone to capture myopathy, and the physical manifestation of the condition in whitetail is gruesome beyond belief.
The symptoms progress over days and weeks following the release, though if fatal, the deer always dies within a month. It begins with apparent stiffness and discomfort in the hindquarters, slowly progressing to final paralysis, usually accompanied by renal (kidney) failure.
Autopsies show extremely degraded muscles and connective tissue, particularly in the back and hindquarters, and often thoroughly destroyed kidney tissue.
This is almost certainly a death marked by extreme, prolonged, relentless pain. Yet the worst is that, in the end, afflicted deer may be attacked by scavengers who take advantage of the deer's crippled condition. If they find the deer still alive, they are not hesitant to begin feeding without regard for the fact that the deer may still have its head up.
Clearly this is an experiment that Town & Country would want to abandon, right? Wrong.
This year, Town & Country sought to trap and transplant another 150 deer (at city taxpayer expense), though they actually managed less than half that.
A delegation from Town & Country, including a Ms. Jeanne Martin and Ms. Brunilda Perez, addressed the Missouri Conservation Commissioners at the February 2000 Commission meeting.
Were they there to find out how to reduce myopathy, or explore more humane methods of dealing with their deer overpopulation problems? No such luck. What they had to say revealed pervasive self-delusion, and profound ignorance of whitetail biology.
They were there to protest the fact that the deer were located in an area in which hunting is legal! It seems they would prefer they be located in an area in which deer are not hunted. Of course, any such areas are already suffering under an overpopulation problem. Apparently Town & Country politicians are content to simply move their problem to someone else's back yard.
It is true that an unusually large percentage of the transplanted deer were taken during the fall hunting season, since the sudden presence of 80 collared deer attracted a fair amount of local attention at the relocation site. But the collars were a one-time part of the research project, so this should not happen again.
Some of what they said defies belief. This, from Ms. Martin: "These deer are very human entities. And to just throw them out into places with people who want to hunt them, it really doesn't give them a fair chance at making their place in life."
Or this: "The translocated deer already come from a protected area so we don't see any problem with putting them into another protected area." which clearly states their willingness to simply relocate the problem rather than solving it.
The Conservation Commissioners expressed dismay that Town & Country was relocating bucks as well as does. Even basic knowledge of whitetail biology tells you that since the cost is so high, and since does are the key to controlling whitetail populations, you would release the bucks immediately and focus on trapping more does.
When questioned about this, Ms. Brunilda Perez said (I am not making this up) "It was in the interest of keeping the most humane approach that family groups should be moved together. Many people, remember this has a human dimension, many people felt that the fawns, whether they were does or bucks, should be moved along with the mother."
Astonishing. They are thinking in cartoons rather than science. Recall that the transplants are taking place in January and February, when young deer have been out of spots and weaned for half a year or so. Adult does have long since kicked their male progeny out of their range. Juvenile does are already assuming their role in the 'pecking order' of the whitetail matriarchy, and have not depended in any way on their 'mother' for months.
As for why they are moving mature bucks as well, we can only assume they want the relocated deer to have a strong father figure. This would be funny if there was not so much inhumane suffering as a result.
In the Commission meeting they even sought to blame hunters for the capture myopathy! Commenting on the benefits of selecting an unhunted relocation site, Ms. Clayton dropped this pearl of whitetail biology wisdom: " the stress should be less so we might even see a decrease in the capture myopathy that we've seen before because of fewer hunters and turkey hunters "
Apparently she would have us believe that a deer relocated in February which dies of capture myopathy in March, would somehow be saved if there had not been a deer hunter in the woods four months earlier. Or if there would not be a turkey hunter in the woods a month or so after the deer died. These people are making it up as they go along.
It is natural for a conservationist to abhor this situation. If my gun or bow caused the sort of suffering that Town & Country is inflicting on these magnificent animals, I would have hung them up long ago. There is no inconsistency with having venison in your freezer and taking exception to the inhumane behavior of Town & Country.
Despite their awful decisions, one cannot deny that Town & Country politicians truly face a serious problem.
Many of their constituents express naive desires such as "let nature take its course." But when it comes to whitetails, nature left town along with the wolves, cougars and bears which they evolved alongside.
It is quite simple. If you have deer, something other than old age and BMW's had better be killing them or you have too many deer.
What few understand is that once whitetails reach a level that impacts the quality of their habitat, they are like an invisible forest fire that just keeps burning and burning. Though wooded areas may look fine to the untrained eye, they can be a biological desert from the perspective of the myriad species that depend on a healthy, diverse understory.
It is time for Town & Country to face facts. They have too many deer. It is an ecologically, economically and politically unsustainable situation. Nature has no tools to correct the situation, unless of course they want to reintroduce wolves or cougars. That would certainly add an interesting dimension to time spent waiting for a school bus in Town & Country.
They must reduce the herd to appropriate levels, and must undertake sufficient annual management to keep it there. Their preferred method of capture and relocation has clearly been shown to be inhumane, not to mention extremely expensive.
There are only three tools available to suburban deer managers. Bowhunting, which is not practical when most of the habitat is in densely settled areas. Professional sharpshooting, which is pretty expensive, and politically difficult to sell since most people do not understand it can be safely conducted. And there is the only real solution for Town & Country, trap and euthanize. This is the only practical, humane tool which can accomplish the level of reduction they need.
Instead of spending $400 a head to torture these animals, they should spend far less arranging for the meat to be processed and donated to the St. Louis Area Food Bank, which will ensure it gets to the homes of families who cannot typically afford fresh red meat.
In the real world, there is no other humane, ecologically sound option. There is no place to put Town & Country's deer where they will not die. Only Disney could do that.
It is time for the Conservation Commission to pull the plug on the relocation permit. Enough is enough. The deer deserve better, and the clear message should be sent to other suburban communities in St. Louis and around the state that relocation is not a practical, humane option for dealing with the growing suburban whitetail problem.
It is also time for Town & Country to switch off the TV and grow up. In the real world, things die.