The Craig City Council introduced an ordinance at its Tuesday meeting it hopes will help reduce the number of deer living in the city.
The ordinance, which was drafted at the suggestion of the Colorado Division of Wildlife, would increase the penalties for feeding deer or other big game in the city. If passed, the ordinance would amend the care and treatment of animals section of the Craig municipal code.
“Except as otherwise permitted by law, it shall be unlawful for any person to intentionally place, deposit, distribute or scatter grain, hay, minerals or salt or other foods for the consumption by big game not lawfully held in captive,” the ordinance reads.
The ordinance goes on to define big game animals as members of the deer, elk, moose or antelope families.
“Crops and crop aftermath, including hay, alfalfa and grains produced, harvested, stored or fed to domestic livestock in accordance with normal agricultural practices shall not be subject to this ordinance,” the ordinance reads.
Police chief Walt Vanatta said there currently exists a DOW regulation against placing or scattering food for wildlife. Violating the regulation, Vanatta said, is a $68 fine.
“It is more intended towards outfitters to keep them from putting (things) like salt blocks in the middle of their pastures to attract the deer there so their hunters can shoot the deer,” he said. “It really isn’t designed from the perspective of, ‘Just quit feeding the deer because you like the deer and you think they’re hungry.’”
City Attorney Kenny Wohl said if the ordinance passed as it is currently written, the fine for feeding deer would be up to $300 and/or a maximum of 90 days in jail.
However, Wohl said the city council could rework the fine amount or number of days in jail before the ordinance passes.
Vanatta said one hitch with the DOW regulation is that enforcement of it requires a peace officer.
“So, from our point of view, if we are going to have one, we would rather have it as a city ordinance, that way our community resource officers can deal with the issue, for the most part,” he said.
Vanatta said if the ordinance passes, officers would have to investigate allegations of deer feeding like other police cases to “definitively prove” the violation.
“We have to prove they are purposefully feeding big game,” he said. “I think if a guy has a bird feeder hanging in the yard and the deer jump up and eat it, then so be it, the deer is a lucky deer.”
When asked if she thought the ordinance would help with the number of deer, council member Jennifer Riley said “it’s not going to hurt anything.”
“I think the food that the deer eat in town is not just what is put out by some people,” she said. “I made the point last night (that) they are eating crab apple trees and eating flowers. We live in a nice, lush community.
“Is it going to solve the problem? No. Is it going to hurt the problem? No. Is it going to help? Maybe.”
However, Riley said, there is a “fine line” between passing an ordinance that might mitigate the problem and “infringing on private property rights.”
“We could tell people, ‘Hey, if you don’t want deer in your yard these are the plants you can plant that will discourage the deer from eating them if you want,’” she said. “But beyond that, that’s totally up to people.”
Riley said people have a right to do what they want on their property, whether that is hanging a bird feeder or planting flowers.
“That is not considered feeding the deer,” she said. “What we want people to stop doing is putting out the deer blocks and the deer feed.”
The council member also questioned if the city council needed to pass an ordinance “every time there is some perceived problem.”
“But, in the spirit of being supportive of Division of Wildlife, I feel like it is something we should do,” she said.
Council member Terry Carwile agreed.
“It may seem gratuitous to some folks,” he said. “But, in the interest of partnership with the Division of Wildlife and demonstrating to the community that we are willing to do something, I think it is a value. But, in terms of how much value (it will have), that remains to be seen.”
Carwile said he is approaching the ordinance with a “wait and see attitude.”
“It remains to be seen how enforceable it will be, and so forth,” he said. “… In terms of doing something that is within the terms of city government’s purview, this is something that we can try.
“I think we are venturing into uncharted territory with this sort of an effort.”