Too many critters running wild these days

Too many critters running wild these days
Deer numbers in South Dakota are on the upswing. Anybody who drives a rural road at night can figure that out.

But the real proof of the spiraling population is where deer are seen other than along a dark roadside – like foraging in a farmyard or browsing a garden along Lake Mitchell.

Or maybe smack in the middle of the state's largest city.

On a family trip to Sioux Falls a few weeks back to watch a minor-league Canaries game, proof of the state's burgeoning deer population nearly ran right over me.

After the game, a snack seemed in order. Just across the street from the Empire Mall – and in one of Sioux Falls' busiest areas – Taco Bell has a small, dark parking lot that was nearly empty at 11 p.m. While walking out of the restaurant, I was nearly trampled by a herd of seven young deer, whose hooves made an unnaturally loud clatter on the pavement as they rushed past, sprinted across a four-lane street and headed for the mall's spacious parking lot.

Six made it across the street; the seventh stopped and ran back in the direction from which the herd came.

It was surreal � an actual herd of deer in Sioux Falls, not nibbling on bushes along the Sioux River, but stampeding through a dark parking lot of a fast food restaurant, within 10 feet of me as I unlocked my car door.

Evidently, deer herds are gathering numbers in South Dakota's biggest city, according to Doug Day, a Department of Game, Fish and Parks officer based in Sioux Falls.

"There have been some sizeable herds apparently building (in Sioux Falls)," said Day. "Each year, we have some good-sized herds wandering around town where, of course, there is no hunting allowed."

Sioux Falls, population 124,000, has ample opportunities for deer to sneak into the city limits, Day said. The Big Sioux River probably is the most obvious, but there also is Skunk Creek and numerous drainage and diversion ditches. Wooded areas, both in the middle of town and on its outskirts, offer places for deer to congregate.

Very little can be done to reduce the urban herd, Day said, and "most of the (deer) mortality is with motor vehicle collisions."

Mitchell, too, has rising urban deer numbers, according to local GF&P officer Andy Petersen.

"We have got quite a bit of a deer problem here, especially along the northern edge of town," he said. "There are quite a few large tracts of pretty rugged ground right along (Firesteel) Creek where it comes out of Lake Mitchell, which are prime deer habitat."

The northeast section of town, around Avera Queen of Peace Hospital, along Foster Street and out to Shanard Road, probably have the biggest deer problems, Petersen said.

Also, Petersen said deer are getting hit with more frequency on old Highway 16, west of the Holiday Inn and out near the county fairgrounds.

"A lot of deer have been hanging out in that area," he said.

It's the same out by Trail King.

Petersen said he thinks the situation actually is getting better lately, since he hasn't had as many complaints called to his office. But he also said it's tough to control an urban deer population because, obviously, hunting isn't allowed in town and also because many times, people are to blame.

"Some residents like to feed them," he said, "so the deer hang out there."

It's not illegal to feed deer, unless it's salt, Petersen said. Treats like corn and apples, however, are legal and especially tempt a whitetail's palate.

Often, however, "it just irritates the surrounding neighbors," he said.

Aside from calls about deer, Petersen said a common urban wild animal call he gets is about skunks. A few possums roam the city as well, he said.

I know that for a fact. This past winter, I opened the door to go into my garage and nearly stepped on a hefty possum taking liberty of a cat food buffet, not two feet away. I screamed a girlish pitch I'll never reach again, thought I'd had a heart attack right there on my garage steps and vowed to shoot the critter the next time he breaches the fence that surrounds my yard.

I understand that's illegal within city limits, but ?

What's funny is the cat lay calmly nearby. Evidently, the possum was a regular dinner guest.

And once, when I was a kid, a grouse broke its neck by smashing into our picture window.

As for animals in your yard, garage or running through your parking lot, it's not a good idea to shoot them. Petersen says there are certain products that can help rid your yard of wildlife, without hurting kids or the animals. He has flyers in his office with more information, he said.

To tell the truth, I don't like so much nature in my garage, hitting my picture window or sprinting past me at a restaurant. Call it segregation.

On the other hand, that grouse went well with potatoes and brown gravy.

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