SUSAN GALLAGHER Associated Press Writer
HELENA (AP) City officials faced with complaints about deer in Helena reeled two months ago when state wildlife commissioners sidelined a plan to kill up to 350 of the animals. On Thursday, commissioners authorized killing 50 deer this winter. The Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission voted 4-1 for the smaller culling by paid shooters. Dissenter Victor Workman questioned whether deer pose a health-andsafety problem in Helena, or simply are perceived as a nuisance by some of the residents. Workman said people in his community of Whitefish coexist not just with deer, but with moose, elk and bears. In Helena, some residents have complained deer obstruct traffic and threaten pedestrians, including a newspaper carrier who reported a deer forced him beneath a car. Fish, Wildlife and Parks records include this summary of a complaint: "Deer killed dog. Deer are aggressive. Deer don't pay taxes. Deer need to go." Not everyone is bothered, however. Some Helenans say the deer wandering around town contribute to the charm of life in a mountain setting. Helena's deer population has been estimated at 500 animals. There are predictions it will triple in three years if left unchecked. How Helena manages deer will be watched by other Montana cities, such as Missoula and Great Falls, that are inhabited by deer. The removal of up to 50 between Dec. 15 and May 1 will not have a measurable effect on the population in Helena, but still makes sense because it allows the city to move forward "in incremental steps rather than the giant leap we suggested back in September," said Chris Smith, chief of staff for Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Officials need to "learn as we go and figure out the logistics associated with doing this," said Ken McDonald, the state wildlife administrator. Commission Chairman Steve Doherty suggested trucking some of Helena's deer to a place away from town. Wildlife officials said that would not be sound wildlife management. Expenses to be covered by Helena's $30,000 budget for deer reduction include payment for shooters. City Manager Tim Burton said Thursday that officials still need to determine where to find them, and what qualifications to require. "There isn't an industry in Montana," said Burton, adding there will be no shooting before the new year. Projects to control urban deer exist widely in the United States, but wildlife officials say Helena's needs are different because the city has mule deer, not the white-tailed deer found in a number of cities. Mule deer are more likely in inhabit open spaces, McDonald said, but white-tailed deer prefer areas with cover. Workman que s t ione d whether stories of harassment by deer in Helena stemmed from spontaneous behavior by the animals. He raised the possibility the wildlife were provoked. Workman also said Fish, Wildlife and Parks has wasted $20,000 to $30,000 in staff time on Helena's deer concerns. Working to resolve "a social issue" in the city is not wise use of the agency's resources, he said. Deciding whether Helena has a deer problem is not up to the commission, Commissioner Shane Colton said. Officials representing Helena say a problem exists, and that is reason enough for commissioners to help find a solution, Colton said. Another commissioner, Willie Doll, said it is important the removal of deer not create a public spectacle. "You don't want your kids watching Bambi get shot," Doll said.