BOUNTIFUL -- A new program to reduce the urban deer population in Bountiful hasn't begun yet, but the thinning is taking place anyway, says Police Chief Tom Ross.
Ross, a 23-year veteran of the police force, said the deer population has grown so large within city limits that officers are regularly called to shoot injured deer that have been hit or caught in a fence.
He said the deer population has really taken off in the last decade and is forcing city officials to deal with it, one way or another.
Police will team with the state's Division of Wildlife Resources in a new pilot program to attempt to manage the city's burgeoning deer population in a more formal way, beginning this month.
The program will pair one officer with a DWR official to "lethally remove nuisance deer" within city limits, using a suppressed weapon.
Ross expects that effort to be done in the evenings, with as little interaction with the public as possible.
As part of the program, the city is required to provide a map and contact list of cooperating landowners, through a landowner registration program that identifies people willing to allow access to their property for deer removal.
City Manager Tom Hardy said 30 households are signed up to provide that access and suggests the number is going up every day.
Ross notes the program is controversial, but he said the issue of dealing with urban deer is so extensive it reaches down the hills to Main Street and U.S. 89.
"Whether or not you think it's a problem, it will be a problem and someday we'll be faced with a bigger urban deer population," Ross said.
Unlike wild deer, Ross said, urban deer are comfortable in a city setting. "They're not leaving. It's easy for them to get food and survive."
Both Hardy and Ross stress the intent of the program is not to eliminate the deer herd, just to manage it better.
"We are not trying to slaughter deer, we are trying a humane way to manage the deer we have," Hardy said.
A DWR spokesman estimated the population of urban deer at about 500 within city limits, while estimates from other city officials suggest it is much higher than that.
DWR numbers show that deer calls within the city have slowly grown since 2006, with a spike of 224 calls in 2008 during harsh winter conditions.
Those same DWR numbers show that 74 deer were killed in the city last year, with a spike of 94 deer fatalities in 2008. This year, the DWR reports 42 deer fatalities in the city from January through July.
This will be the first active effort by the city and state to reduce the population within the city since 1995-96, Hardy said.
Meat from killed deer will feed the hungry and homeless after being donated to the local chapter of Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry.
Kelly Bingham, a program coordinator for the FHFH, said the chapter will pay the costs of processing the meat.