SPRING CREEK – An increase in the number of mule deer in residential areas at the foot of the Ruby Mountains is prompting homeowners and the Spring Creek Association to look at ways to reduce property destruction and disappearing vegetation.
The surge in the mule deer population is creating problems for Spring Creek residents, who are watching the animals eat their trees, shrubs and flowerbeds and destroy fencing and other barriers in their yards.
About 20 years ago a mule deer sighting was rare, said Tract 400 resident and association director Paddy Legarza. But over time, it has turned into a year-round invasion, preventing her from planting flowers and forcing her to install electric fencing and wrap her arborvitaes permanently.
“I have more deer as the years go by,” Legarza said. “I am sick of it. I like the wildlife, but I can’t keep anything in my yard and I spend a ton of money on water.”
Neighbor Chris Elegante said he agreed with Legarza’s description and said he was amazed that deer were even willing to eat needles from his Austrian Pine trees.
“I’ve never seen this before,” Elegante said. “But it happened about two winters ago. I had never seen them eat that foliage before. It’s a first for me.”
A resident of Spring Creek since 1987, Elegante said he was in favor of developing a management plan, noting that sightings of deer were very rare as he grew up in the homeowners association.
“It seems like they’re doubling every year,” Elegante said. “My parents struggle. They eat flowers, tomato plants, and the bucks rub their antlers on the trees.”
Tom Donham, eastern region supervising game biologist for the Nevada Department of Wildlife, spoke to the association’s board of directors on Feb. 27 and explained one reason that deer populations are increasing is that herds are not migrating to their traditional summer range.
“This would have been a historic winter range, although it is also a year-round range,” Donham said. “You can talk to any rancher in Elko County and they’ve got resident deer year-round on their properties.”
Other reasons include a lack of natural predators, and hunting prohibited in settled areas, Donham said.
“Not only are there homes on the mule deer habitat, [but] they’ll do what they can do to survive,” Donahm said. “You disallow hunting and natural predators are pushed out of the area, so of course those populations grow even quicker than populations out in the wild.”
Across the country, states such as New Jersey and Oregon are trying to figure out how to handle their exploding white-tailed deer populations. As far as simply relocating the deer to another area, that is not an option for two reasons, Donham said.
“Number one, it doesn’t really work [because] you’ve got to take them a long, long, long way out or they’re just going to come back,” he said. The other reason is an increased risk of chronic wasting disease.”
NDOW does not know how many deer are in Spring Creek currently, Donham said, but setting up a mule deer management plan that involves HOA members tracking and counting deer would be a community-based way to determine how many animals are in the area, what is a manageable rate, and how to keep the population down to that amount.
When a resident asked the board if the association would consider permitting bow hunting on private property, Don Clebano, Tract 400 resident and a former law enforcement officer for NDOW, said there is a state law against shooting a missile on private property.
Clebano also mentioned an opposite problem where homeowners are illegally feeding wildlife, a law NDOW officials are actively enforcing.
“There is a state law against feeding wildlife,” Clebano said, explaining that grain and alfalfa are unhealthy for deer as they do not digest. “They’re feeding them alfalfa and grains. They want them there, they want to see them, but they don’t realize what the problem is ... [which is] their stomachs are full and they are starving to death.”
NDOW will lend any assistance to the HOA as needed, but the agency cannot solve the problem, Donham said. Interest from homeowners will be the first step in finding a solution that is best for residents and mule deer.
“I love seeing this engagement and this is encouraging. This is where it starts,” he said.