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Libby approves deer management plan

Daily Inter Lake | May 18, 2021 7:00 AM

Libby City Council approved a portion of a wildlife management plan pertaining to the municipality’s urban deer population as a resolution May 3.

The cleaned-up document outlines the city’s approach to handling deer-related problems, including decreasing the animal’s numbers in town, in cooperation with state officials. Drafted with help from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, the document represents more than a year’s worth of work.

“We’ve had the opportunity to hash this out for some time,” said Mayor Brent Teske while introducing Resolution No. 1979, nodding to the long months of negotiation, research and editing that went into the plan.

Developing a local plan for deer management took newfound importance after state officials detected chronic wasting disease in and around Libby. An analysis released in early 2020 indicated that 13 out of every 100 deer in the city suffered from CWD.

As developed, one of the document’s goals is to integrate with the state’s Libby CWD Management Plan. The municipal plan addressed destroying deer that are aggressive, unsafe and sickly as well as reducing damage to property and vegetation by culling the animal’s population. The document also calls for educating residents against feeding deer, which is illegal under state code, showcasing how to dispose of carcasses safely and reduce the prevalence of CWD.

“The city recognizes the importance of, and wishes to preserve, a healthy deer population, the aesthetic value of wildlife viewing as well as the economic value that hunting provides to the area’s businesses,” the document reads. “However, the city is an expanding urban environment within a significant wildlife habitat and this creates the potential for conflict between residents and wildlife.”

As for culling the population, the plan calls for assisting FWP in tracking the number of deer in Libby. The state will take the lead on trapping the animals, though the Libby Police Department may lend a hand, which will typically occur between December and February. FWP personnel may engage in sharpshooting in cooperation with local law enforcement.

Deer culled by FWP will undergo testing for CWD. Those animals cleared of the disease could go to a local food bank or other charitable organizations. The state will maintain a freezer to store carcasses.

The FWP plan, once authorized by the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission, calls for reducing CWD prevalence among Libby deer to 5 percent and will be reevaluated in five years. At present, prevalence is estimated at 13 percent within city limits. If the state program is discontinued, FWP officials agreed to help City Hall in funding its plan.

As to feeding the deer, city staff and FWP personnel will collaboratively encourage residents to refrain. City police officers will educate anyone caught feeding a deer on the laws before passing an incident off to FWP, according to the document. State officials will determine whether to take additional action, including prosecution.

The document also reminds residents that they cannot use a firearm to kill a deer within city limits.

Libby resident Jennifer Nelson praised city officials for coming up with the local roadmap.

“I would just like to thank the council and the committee that worked on this plan,” she said. “I just really appreciate what you’ve done. It’s been a very difficult thing to watch sick deer. It’s been difficult to watch our gardens be destroyed, our landscaping be destroyed, and I thank you very much.”

City councilors voted unanimously to adopt the resolution.

With deer taken care of, officials indicated they could now focus on other nuisance wildlife in the city. While the prevalence of CWD put deer into the spotlight early, many residents have complained about the town’s wild turkey population. In recent months, officials have expressed concern about the growing population of rabbits in Libby.