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Gainesville residents tackle deer problems
Neighborhood wants humane solution for plant nibblers
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Dana Chapman has, for the longest time, tried to steer her neighborhood watch group from talking about the deer in the Riverside Drive area of Gainesville.

But after it became apparent that someone may be illegally shooting some of the deer that roamed through the neighborhood and cutting off their antlers, Chapman relented.

"Is it smart? No. Is it illegal? Yes. But is it dangerous? Oh my gosh!" Chapman said. "I don’t want somebody’s teenagers shooting a rifle in my backyard over here."

While much of the homes around Riverside Drive have been around for quite some time, recent efforts at residential development have displaced some of the local deer population.

The effects have varied from disappearing hostas to vehicle-stricken deer who eventually have to be shot by the city’s police department. Now, the Riverside Drive area neighborhood watch group is looking to manage the problem.

The group will meet with area wildlife officials, city police and code enforcement officials in mid-February to discuss ways to manage Riverside’s growing deer population.

A study by the state’s Department of Natural Resources said the state’s deer population has grown from 198,000 to 1 million in the last 35 years.

The DNR released a management plan for urban deer populations in 2005. The plan urges local governments and private landowners to use regulated hunting methods to manage deer, but notes that other nonlethal methods, including repellents, are available.

It is illegal to trap and relocate deer in Georgia.

And while a resident can legally hunt on his or her own property, it is illegal to shoot a firearm in the Gainesville city limits, Gainesville Police Lt. Carol Martin said. Martin said city police officers were called to respond to a deer suffering in the city limits probably two or three times in 2009.

"If you can’t shoot a gun inside the city limits, but we’re living in a wildlife preserve, what are we going to do?" Chapman said. "Everybody talks about the deer eating their hosta, and I’m sorry, a hosta is one thing, but shooting a gun is another thing."

Ken Riddleberger, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ area supervisor for game management in the Wildlife Resources Division, said the DNR normally refers neighborhood groups that are concerned about deer overpopulation to groups who do controlled hunts for that very purpose.

Some groups comprise archers who normally work in subdivisions and golf courses, Riddleberger said. And while other options exist, the DNR promotes controlled, managed hunts as the easiest and most cost-effective way to reduce the number of deer in an urban area.

"Allowing some type of hunting is a good option for homeowners that have a problem in their area," Riddleberger said.

Gainesville City Manager Kip Padgett said the 6 p.m. meeting Feb. 18 at the Elk’s Lodge in Gainesville will bring the agencies together that have jurisdiction over the issue "to brainstorm" possible solutions to the deer-human conflicts in the area.

Chapman said she hopes that the neighbors, wildlife management officials and law enforcement will come to some consensus about the next step in managing the area’s deer population.

"I hope to get ... an agreement and a plan for how we can humanely and appropriately control the deer overpopulation," Chapman said.

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