OGDEN — A small group of concerned citizens on Ogden’s east bench is trying to save a few deer from a grisly death.
Back in mid-February, Ogden resident Amy Tribe was out walking on Skyline Drive in the Shadow Valley neighborhood when she came across a pool of blood in the street. She looked to one side, and on a section of low, metal fence topped with sharp points were bits of deer fur, with more blood in the snow below.
Tribe followed the crimson trail across the street. More blood, although she never did find the poor victim.
A few weeks later, it happened again.
“On Sunday, another deer had been completely sliced open by the fence and was hanging on it,” Tribe said last week. “It was horrible to see. I had to get the deer down.”
Two deer suffering the same fate in less that a month? Tribe knew she had to do something about it.
“This is just a 3-foot-high fence, and I know deer can jump high, so I’m not sure why they’re not clearing the fence,” she said.
Tribe, who lives on nearby Shoshone Drive, said there are about 16 homes along Skyline Drive, just north of Shadow Valley Drive, that are separated from the roadway by a short fence with sharp points atop each picket. She says the fence can be a death trap for unsuspecting deer.
Tribe contacted the city but says they weren’t much help. She also wrote a letter to the homeowners with these fences but go no response.
So Tribe took to a neighborhood social app called Nextdoor and began asking for “thoughts or suggestions” on what might be done about the problem. A small group of neighbors began to coalesce behind the idea of saving the deer.
One of those neighbors was Matt Miller, who lives on 2400 East in the neighboring Woodlands in the Highlands area.
“A few times, people have posted about these fences,” Miller said. “They have these spikes that are pretty brutal; they look medieval.”
Miller says he got involved after coming to Tribe’s defense when someone on the Nextdoor app was “being obnoxious” about the deer issue.
“She was just trying to do something nice and genuine,” Miller said. “Which caused me to double-down.”
Double-down, as in, the next thing he knows Miller is making plans with Tribe to solve the problem of fence spikes on Skyline Drive.
“I told her, ‘This is not that complicated. I’ve got a grinder. We can do this,’” Miller recalls.
Tribe has since gotten in touch with one of the residents on Skyline Drive — a woman whose section of fence was involved in the two latest impalements — and she agreed to allow Tribe and the others to remove the spikes. The current plan is to meet there on the morning of Sunday, March 22, and use grinders with cut-off wheels to remove the spikes and replace them with flat plugs from a local fencing company.
It won’t be an easy job.
“It’s pretty long,” Miller said of the section of fence in question. “I think we counted 1,170 poles for that one home.”
Nor will it be cheap.
Miller figures they’ll go through quite a few cutting wheels, and while the picket caps are only about 10 cents each, “it adds up.” On Wednesday, he started a GoFundMe page, “Mitigating Dangerous Fencing along Skyline,” with a $500 goal to help defray the costs. As of Friday afternoon, the page was just $35 from its goal.
The two activists have invited others to help on the project, and they’re hoping for a good turnout — despite it being a Sunday in Utah.
“But people have volunteered to come over after church and help,” Miller said. “See? Not every problem needs to be solved by the government. We can do this.”
In California, many communities have banned spikes atop new residential fences in areas where deer frequent. Here in Ogden, there are no such laws.
Greg Montgomery, planning manager for Ogden City, said the city doesn’t have any ordinances that deal with residential ornamental fences.
“The only thing we say in ordinance that you can’t do in a residential area is barbed wire or concertina wire,” Montgomery explained. “That’s the only thing we say. We allow decorative fences, and the homeowner gets to decide what goes on them.”
Montgomery said a few years back the city took issue with a fence installed near Shadow Valley Elementary School, but that was a case of inadequate setbacks — neighbors erected a fence right up against the sidewalk.
“We said, ‘You can’t do that,’ because kids riding on the sidewalk could catch their handlebars on the fence,” Montgomery said.
Mark Hadley, the northern region outreach manager for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, said deer impaling themselves on fences isn’t a common thing, but it’s also not unheard of.
“Stuff like that happens every year,” Hadley said. “It’s not widespread, but it does happen. Every year we get a few deer impaled on fences.”
Hadley said he doesn’t have specific numbers on such incidents.
“As far as human-caused things, the number of deer killed on roadways is much, much higher than the number impaled on fences and other things,” he said.
The DWR worked with Hogle Zoo to produce the wildawareutah.org site, which provides people with tips for dealing with wildlife in the state.
For those who want to keep deer out of their yards, a fence needs to be 7 or 8 feet tall, according to Hadley. He also said to make sure there aren’t any places in a fence where a deer might think it could squeeze through.
“You want to try to keep access to your property shut off, especially at night,” he said.
And for those who enjoy having deer in their yards? Hadley said while it’s important not to encourage deer visits by feeding them, nor should you put them in harm’s way.
“If you don’t mind having deer on your property, go with a shorter fence,” Hadley said. “But build a fence that doesn’t have those ornamental kinds of things on top of them. And if you’ve got a fence that might pose a threat to deer, consider making changes to that fence.”
Although deer impalements aren’t all that frequent, they’re becoming more common with the growing urban deer problem, according to Mike Laughter, director of field operations for the Mule Deer Foundation in Salt Lake City.
“We run into these challenges all the time,” Laughter said. “There, it’s picket fences. In Bountiful, it’s dogs and traffic.”
At one point, Laughter says the Mule Deer Foundation was removing deer from Davis County’s east bench and transplanting them to Vernal, Utah’s west desert, and elsewhere. But the state put an end to that with the recent prevalence of chronic wasting disease, a fatal disease of the central nervous system in deer.
Laughter said the urban deer problem is “kinda beyond our control” and is only going to get worse.
“These deer are urbanizing,” he said. “There’s good feed in town, nobody can shoot at or harass them, they don’t have a lot of predators — and they don’t have a lot of other options.”
Laughter said developers are building on the east benches, in the deer’s traditional winter range. And as deer become habituated to urban feeding, they wander deeper and deeper into cities.
Indeed, Laughter, who lives in Hooper, said in past years it would have been unheard of to see deer that far west.
“But this summer, I saw some in a pasture out in Hooper,” he said. “I think you’ll see more and more deer urbanize. It’s the beginning of a bigger problem.”
While the Mule Deer Foundation discourages deer from being in an urban setting, it also encourages residents to use wildlife-friendly fencing.
“For a lot of reasons, you always want wildlife to be in a safe environment,” Laughter said. “But that also goes for children. You wouldn’t want kids to fall and impale themselves on these fences.”
Laughter said he’d like to see Utahns doing more “proactive stuff on the front end” to keep both deer and people safe.
“I think that as we move forward, I would encourage contractors, landscapers, developers and residents to consider wildlife-friendly approaches to reduce conflicts between mule deer and people,” he said. “Let’s face it, a half-mile of spiked fence in the deer’s winter range isn’t such a good idea.”
Retrofitting fences to make them more deer-friendly has been done before in these same Ogden foothills. In the eight years Tom Moeglein has lived on Aztec Drive in the nearby Whispering Oaks homeowners association, he’s seen two or three deer die on the homeowners association’s 6-foot-high spiked fences.
“It’s not a nice death; it’s just not a good situation,” Moeglein said. “Finally, some of the ladies in here talked us into taking them off, so my son and I and a couple of people from the HOA went out, cut off the spikes and put plugs in their place.”
Although Whispering Oaks is a small HOA with just 24 homes, Moeglein said they didn’t have anyone come back and say they didn’t like the changes to the fence.
“I admit it doesn’t look as nice as the spears, but they were killing deer,” he said.
Miller says he’s not trying to be a “do-gooder” with this fencing project, he just thinks there’s no reason to be working against nature rather than with it.
“I’m not by any stretch of the imagination a wildlife extremist or an environmentalist,” Miller said. “Just kind of out of self-respect I wanted to see if we could work together on this to fix the problem.”
Miller says they’ll alter one homeowner’s fence as an example, then show it to the others. Miller hopes all of the homeowners will opt to remove the spikes, but he also respects their property rights.
“We’re not trying to coerce anyone — this is America,” he said. “But we’re trying to raise awareness and appeal to people’s conscience. In no way are we trying to disrespect property rights or preference. It’s voluntary. But we love these mule deer out here.”
For her part, Tribe just wants the carnage to stop.
“I’m just trying to take off these spikes,” Tribe said. “I don’t want to see any more deer killed.”
Miller said they’re determined to do a good job with this first homeowner’s fence, so that it looks professional and pleasing. That way, when the other homeowners see the end result, they might agree to it, too.
“We’re going to set an example. Everyone will see how beautiful it is, at no cost to the homeowners,” Miller said. “And, when women walk their dogs, they won’t have to see entrails strewn about and suffering animals.”