It’s easy to forget that all of Tooele Valley was once at the bottom of Lake Bonneville. When the ancient lake was at its greatest depth some 20,000 years ago, waves lapped near the mouth of Settlement Canyon. At Lake Point its surface was over 900 feet above today’s Flying J Truck Stop.
It’s also easy to forget that before white man arrived here in the early 1800s, Tooele Valley was a primitive place that teemed with wildlife. More than 180 years later, the abundant wildlife is gone — but then you almost crash into a herd of deer while driving on Tooele City Main Street. Slamming on your brakes, you yell, “Hey! What are they doing here?”
If you read last Thursday’s story, “Tooele hit with deluge of deer,” you know the answer. According to Tom Becker, a Utah Division of Wildlife Resources biologist in Tooele County, the recent storm that dropped the air temperatures like a hammer has pushed more deer down from the mountains into nearby communities — especially Tooele City.
The new arrivals, in search of winter range for food, have mingled with existing urban deer herds that have become residents — many of them permanently — in Tooele City. The new influx of deer has made an already significant problem worse. And, as Becker says, little can be done about it.
Except for two things: Drive carefully, and don’t feed the deer.
According to Becker, residents should anticipate seeing deer on Tooele City roadways from now until spring. Main Street between 200 South and 1200 South, and Skyline Drive are two known “hot zones” where deer frequent. Motorists killed approximately 40 deer in those zones during the 2012-13 winter.
The DWR biologist also urged residents to resist the temptation to feed deer that come into their yards or gardens over the winter. Like most wild animals, they need a specialized diet. What residents feed deer could make them sick, he said, or even worse, make them dependent on free handouts. When that happens, it discourages deer from heading back to the mountains when spring returns.
If deer congregate on neighborhood yards and become a nuisance, there currently is no public process to help residents out, according to Becker. Some pilot programs are being considered by the state to deal with urban deer, but are likely years away because of cost and logistics.
There’s also the small problem of stopping them from coming back.
Becker suggested that residents, whose yards are routinely hit by nuisance deer, install a tall fence or deterrence devices to frighten deer and hopefully encourage them to head back to higher country.
We published an editorial a year ago that brought attention to Tooele City’s urban deer population problem, and the challenge it presents to Becker and residents. Because Tooele City is located next to the Oquirrh Mountains, and sits on winter range for the animal, the urban deer problem is expected to continue — unless the DWR intervenes.
Although reducing the city’s urban deer herds may be cost prohibitive, it is hoped the DWR can and will take action sooner rather than later. Until that occurs, or if at all, residents are encouraged to install deer-proof barriers to protect gardens and landscapes.
And when Bambi comes knocking for a treat, don’t sell out.