White Buffalo began sharpshooting in Town and Country this week and will continue the deer management effort for four to six weeks with the goal of eliminating 300 deer. Another 50 deer would be shot next winter, to take the city's population from 660 to 300, or 30 per square mile.
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Wednesday, residents protested saying they are concerned the shooting guidelines are putting people in danger. The protest was organized by the Committee for Safe and Responsible Deer Management, which consists of Town and Country residents who are in favor of sterilization of the deer or the combination of sterilization and sharpshooting. The residents do not support sharpshooting as the only method of reducing the deer population, but the plan voted into place by aldermen earlier this year uses sharpshooting only.
“The vigil is in light of the fact that our elected officials voted to spend approximately $130,000 of public money to kill in our residential neighborhoods. This is in direct opposition to results of a City-sponsored, resident survey which indicated that 67% of respondents said to use non-lethal methods of deer management," the organization stated in a news release.
"We believe in managing the deer, but we believe in managing them humanely and there are techniques out there that let us do that," resident and committee member Rosilee Trotta tells Patch. "We are trying to get the community to react responsibly and humanely."
Captain Gary Hoelzer, who was tasked with researching and developing a deer management plan for the city, said sharpshooting is the most effective method for reducing the deer population.
However, some residents say they are concerned the guidelines are putting people in danger.
"The main concern is safety," said Traci Cardenas, Committee for Safe and Responsible Deer Management member. "There are a few issues."
Cardenas tells Patch that she and other residents are concerned with the fact that sharpshooters can now kill on five acres, when before they were required to be on ten acres.
"They're not necessarily going to kill in our neighborhoods, but they have the option to do that. Previously they could only kill on ten acres or more, and they had to be in a tree stand, but this year they (aldermen) voted to lower that so that they can kill on property that can be made up of five acres. They are also shooting from a truck."
However, Hoelzer tells Patch he feels residents are being misinformed which is creating a sense of unnecessary fear.
"I think people are trying to raise a safety issue when none exists," Hoelzer tells Patch. "They (White Buffalo) have always had to shoot from an elevated position. The vehicle was in the plan last year and they are still on a stand. So they are not driving around and shooting out a window, they are shooting from a platform on a truck. The safety protocol has not changed from last year, other than we went from 10 acres to five acres. There is no safety issue. White Buffalo has never had a mishap with sharpshooting. So somebody, I think, is trying to gender some fear among the community, which is baseless."
Hoelzer said the city ordinance reqires all shooting to occure fron an elevated stand, which includes a tree stand 15 to 20 feet above ground or from a stand in a vehicle which is a total of nine feet above ground. Both tree stands and the vehicle are being used this year, as they were last year, according to Hoelzer.
"All of these are approved by the police department," Hoelzer said.
Despite the reassurance, Cardenas and other residents say they are still concerned about safety.
"It's opened up to smaller lots this year, so it opens it up to neighborhoods," Cardenas said. "We have a list of streets where property owners have given the city permission to kill on their property, so right now they (the city) might say 'no,' but that could change tomorrow."
Even though sharpshooting can only take place on property where residents have given White Buffalo permission to shoot, Cardenas said neighbors should be concerned.
"The city is only obligated to give a neighbor four hours notice that killing will take place on an adjoining property. And, they only have to leave you a voicemail. So if you're out of town or at work and you don't hear that message, then you go outside to let your dog out and you don't know the killing is ging on. There's a safety factor," Cardenas said. "I want to know what is going on before I let my dogs, or my children outside. It's happening in the daylight this year when people are outside."
White Buffalo sharpshooters are working during the late afternoon and early evening hours of approximately 3 to 8 p.m.
"The notifications of property owners within 50 yards is the same as previous years. It has not changed the environment of the shooting locations this year from prior years. So we were still shooting in residential areas last year, it has not changed the environment in which they are shooting," Hoelzer said. "This year, we are not driving through neighborhoods and shooting, like last year. That was sterilization, where we darted deer. That's when we received complaints from residents."
Another safety issue raised Wednesday night, bait sites being put up in the City of Town and Country.
"The city has suggested thaty they will be baiting outside of , because they cannot go into the county park to shoot," Cardenas said. "Now the safety issue comes into play because the deer will have to cross streets to get to these sites. So they are creating a safety issue by pulling them out of Queeny Park."
But Hoelzer said the bait sites are not pulling the deer out of the park, the deer are already coming out on their own.
"The deer leave Queeny Park every day. Two or three every afternoon, they leave Queeny Park and come into the city for the residents' lush vegetation. We are not making them leave Queeny Park, they are leaving on their own. They would not find a bait site if they didn't leave the park," Hoelzer said. "It's because they leave the park that we have to have deer management. If they never left Queeny Park, then we wouldn't have to control them."
Cardenas tells Patch she feels that baiting the deer is bringing more deer from Queeny Park. She, and other residents at Wednesday's vigil, are concerned that the city is not doing enough to let residents know what is going on in the city.
"Most of the people we talk to don't know that sharpshooters are here," Cardenas said.
The committee stated in a news release that "Sunshine Law requests to the City inquiring to the locations, times and dates of the killing have been fruitless."
"We just want people to know what's going on because the city is being secretive about this," Cardenas said. "Their (aldermen) need for secrecy and control, I just don't understand it."
Approximately 70 people turned out for the protest and candlelight vigil Wednesday evening held at Mason and Clayton roads. Some came from surrounding cities.
"We have a lot of deer in our area where we live and we hate to see this," Bridgeton resident Lindsay Dogar tells Patch. "We had to come out in support. There are other ways of doing this."
There were no incidents during the one-hour vigil.
"We give as much latitude as we can for public demonstrations," Hoelzer explained. "I certainly respect their opinion and they have the right to express it so we shouldn't have any issues."
Hoelzer said if residents see anyone on their property who is not scheduled to be there, they are probably not with White Buffalo.
Residents who see anything suspicious can call police at the at 314 737-4600.
Anyone with questions about the deer management program should call Captain Gary Hoelzer at 314 587-2850.
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