FAIR OAKS RANCH — A more accurate, annual deer census is predicted now that a “carefully designed” measurement system has been implemented, the City Council learned.
The “spotlight method” is the most reliable way to monitor changes in herbivore numbers, Wildlife Education Committee Chairman Bruce Nicholson said Jan. 16 during a council presentation.
“One of the most important things is that now we have a repeatable mechanism by which we (don’t have to) spend a whole lot of money and survey the deer population and see really what’s happening with it,” added Councilwoman MaryAnne Havard, the WEC liaison.
Many residents said the creatures are among the reasons they were drawn to the pastoral community.
A tally helps determine whether the environment can sustain the deer, including any adverse effects on foliage, officials said. Deer are often blamed for traffic accidents, too, as they dart across roads.
Some cities, including Fair Oaks Ranch, prohibit neighbors from feeding deer.
Since the sampling was in a city, volunteers tallied deer at dusk Sept. 22, 29 and Oct. 6. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department urban biologist Jessica Alderson introduced the survey to the committee.
“The argument was if you drove along this route, you stop at various times, and whenever you see deer you stop the car and count the deer as best you can,” Nicholson said.
A true spotlight technique involves shining a light at night at specific areas and counting only observable deer.
In last fall’s survey, 892 white-tailed deer and 232 axis deer were identified, roughly a 4-1 ratio. They were also broken down further by the number of fawns, does and bucks for each grouping.
Volunteers in automobiles used binoculars. Counters included adults, high schoolers, Boy Scouts and even a family. Together with WEC members, they covered 26 miles.
Donna Taylor, an environmental scientist at Cibolo Nature Center & Farm and owner of a consulting firm, recorded deer with her husband, David, and sons, Simon and David, both Scouts.
The experience proved enlightening for her offspring, she said.
“Now, they know how to do a deer census, and understand the purpose, and how it works,” Taylor said.
Though the burg has counted deer in the past, Alderson said the latest information shouldn’t be compared to earlier surveys because of the new system.
“Basically we’re starting from square one this year and then going and moving forward,” she said.
Samplings previously were conducted in 2000, 2010 and 2014.
WEC reported axis were more prevalent on the northern part of town.
Recalling the city’s 2016 deer-feeding ban, Nicholson speculated at the meeting a natural, ecological balance was being maintained.
Several factors can affect a deer population; Alderson said her department recommends urban communities look at a social or a cultural “carrying capacity.” This includes the number of vehicular collisions with the animal, deer and human and/or deer and pet conflicts, landscape damage and fawn births in front yards.
“If you’re picking up lots of dead deer, if you’re having lots of deer-vehicle collisions, then I would say that’s a pretty good indicator that you’re having an increase in human-wildlife interaction,” she said.
Maintaining the herd is often a next step, whether it’s through community education, banning feeding, or deer removal.
Taylor said a lot of folks are misinformed and she likes to “plant little seeds in people’s minds.”
“I have a healthy respect for all wildlife and I think that we need to understand that the situation that we’re in is driven by what we do,” Taylor said. “When I have an accident with a deer do I like them? No. But, when I’m watching them walk through the prairie? Absolutely.”