Shawnee Mission Park is a 1,250-acre oasis of nature, complete with trees, hiking and biking trails, a fishing lake and wildlife set in the middle of Johnson County, Kan., an urban community close to Kansas City that is home to more than half-a-million people. The 50-year-old park has always provided these city dwellers the opportunity drive down the park's winding roads and view a few deer out for their evening graze. But just as the city has grown up around the park, the deer have thrived, too. Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks officials say there are now about 200 deer per square mile in the park. Last year officials said the park had the highest concentration of deer per square mile in the state and possibly even in the nation.
Of course, such a deer population is a heavy burden on the park's ecosystem, but that's just the beginning of problems officials are facing. The deer are venturing into neighboring yards and destroying expensive landscaping. Homeowners are also worried about lyme disease spread by deer ticks. And there's also the expense and safety issues caused by those ever increasing and inevitable deer-car accidents.
The solution would seem simple, except that it isn't. Turning hunters loose in Shawnee Mission Park on the first day of deer season would be a no-no. A more reasonable option inside the city limits would be to hire sharpshooters and archers to thin the herd in a safe and controlled manner. But a growing number of residents are prepared to fight any plan that calls for the “harvesting” or “culling” of the herd. Never mind that the exploding deer population in such a small area likely dooms those same deer to suffer from starvation or a disease outbreak.
So, of course, there is a proposal to capture and relocate the deer to other parts of the state. Now you can ignore the fact that the farmers who live in such a “relocation site” are unlikely to welcome the deer with open arms. Yep, most of those farmers already have a deer problem of their own. But they needn't worry because any relocation plans are unlikely to be initiated due to the cost. The Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks estimates that relocating the deer would cost from $400 to $2,900 per animal. That would put the total cost of relocating 200 deer at anywhere between $80,000 and $500,000.
Johnson County, as you may know, is one of the wealthiest counties in America, and it would not be a surprise if some well-intentioned folks handed over the half-million dollars it would take to deliver two semi-loads of Bambis to some farmer whose crops aren't seeing enough deer browse. Not so fast, KDWP officials say. Even if they could catch and load 200 head of deer, it's likely that 20 to 80 percent of them would die from stress before they were unloaded in their proposed new home.
Another suggestion to thin the herd is to administer fertility control. But, again, that method would cost from $200 to $1,000 per deer and could take several years to work.
So, using sharpshooters and archers seemed to be the only logical alternative to a deer population that threatens to destroy the park and surrounding neighborhoods. Last night the Johnson County Park and Recreation Commission Board voted unanimously to use the lethal option to reduce the herd from about 200 deer per square mile to about 50 — a 75 percent reduction. That means up to 500 deer could be culled from the park this fall.
Park board officials listened to public comments before their vote, and some residents spoke out against the harvest, but the majority supported the decision as the only logical alternative. One park board member noted that if the problem involved rats or snakes, rather than deer, using the lethal option wouldn't even be an issue. — Greg Henderson, Drovers editor.