Deer feeding ban to be mulled by Bloomington council, part of more than decade-old conflict

In August of 2021, a Bloomington resident in the southeast part of town lodged a deer-related complaint in the city’s online reporting system:

A deer jumped my fence to attack my dog and ran up onto my patio before I slam[med] the door shut. My dog rolled and made it safely in the house. I’m tired of my neighbors in Winslow Farm feeding the deer and I’m willing to take action to stop the deer from killing my family. Take action or I will.

It is partly because of that kind of complaint about deer in neighborhoods that led Bloomington’s animal control commission to vote in April of 2022 to send a draft wildlife management plan to the director of public works Adam Wason for review.

At their May 10 meeting, Bloomington’s animal control director Virgil Sauder briefed city councilmembers on an upcoming ordinance that the administration will be proposing, to implement a deer feeding ban.

Sauder said that the council has not already received a proposed ordinance that would ban deer feeding, because the animal control commission had decided to bundle that change with some revisions to the local code on the dangerous dog ordinance.

The amendments to the dangerous dog ordinance are being pursued in collaboration with Monroe County’s animal management commission, Sauder said. That means finalizing the deer feeding ban has taken a bit longer than planned. Sauder told the council that the ordinance changes are currently with the city legal department for preparation. The changes will be review by the mayor, before they are put in front of the council, he said.

Sauder cautioned: “If the feeding ban is passed, we do expect to have a fair amount of opposition to it.”

Some opposition was already evident in the uReport system a week after Sauder’s presentation: “I can’t believe that you’re gonna make a law against feeding deer because some neighbors disagree. What are we gonna have a law every time neighbors disagree?”

The same recommendation for a feeding ban, which was made by Bloomington’s animal control commission in the draft wildlife management plan, was already included in the report of a joint city-county deer task force, which was delivered in 2012, more than a decade ago.

The more recent draft wildlife management plan encourages the city council to review the recommendations in the 2012 report.

Among the task force recommendations is one to raise the allowable height of fences in Bloomington’s local zoning code.

That’s a change the city council made—during its 2019 round of revisions to the unified development ordinance (UDO). The height limit for fences was previously 8 feet. Now the UDO includes the following provision: “Fences intended exclusively to protect food garden plots from animals shall not be more than 12 feet in height.”

Another recommendation in the task force report is for the city to join deer reduction zones established by Indiana’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR). In such zones, hunters are allowed during hunting season to take more deer than their limit, if the deer are taken from those zones. The idea behind the deer reduction zones is to reduce traffic crashes caused by deer.

Joining the DNR’s deer reduction zones is also something that Bloomington’s animal control commission voted in March 2022 to include as a recommendation in the draft wildlife management plan. Sauder told the commission at their March 2022 meeting that the first areas to be included would be SR 46 and SR 45 coming into Bloomington.

In a geographic plot of deer-related crashes in Monroe County from 2007 to 2022, they show up in unsurprising places—roads with high traffic volume where motorists drive fast:

  • I-69, which runs north-south on the western edge of town
  • SR 46 leading into town from the east (3rd Street) and heading out of town to the west
  • SR 45 leading into town (10th Street) from the east and heading out of town to the west (2nd Street which becomes Bloomfield Road, then SR 45
  • SR 45/46 bypass inside the city limits.
  • SR 446, which runs north-south east of town

About 40 percent of all Monroe County deer-related crashes took place in October and November. According to Indiana’s DNR, that’s because it’s deer mating season, when bucks cross roads more often and are less cautious when crossing.

At their May 10 meeting, when Sauder briefed councilmembers on the ordinance they’d be asked to consider later this year, councilmember Isabel-Piedmont Smith asked him to explain the negative impacts of feeding deer.

Sauder said food that’s put out by people is not consistent with the normal browsing patterns of deer. That causes deer to congregate, he said, and increases the number of deer that can be supported in an area. Sauder continued, saying that if deer know there’s food there, that’s where they’re going to continue to congregate for food.

Sauder said that in neighborhoods where we people are having conflicts with deer, animal control staff generally find that within a few blocks, somebody in that neighborhood is actively feeding deer.

Councilmember Dave Rollo confirmed with Sauder that a ban on feeding would include a ban on setting out salt licks.

Rollo said he wants the city to take a census of deer inside the city so that the effect of deer abundance can be assessed. Rollo also pointed out there’s a public health impact because of deer ticks, which can spread disease to people.

Councilmember Jim Sims agreed with Rollo, saying that deer overabundance is a public health issue, citing Lyme Disease as a specific threat. Sims recounted his own recent encounters with deer on West 7th Street—one near the Banneker Community Center, and the other near White Oak Cemetery.

Sims also encouraged Sauder to make an effort to educate the public about the purpose of the feeding ban, so that it’s clear what problem the ban is supposed to solve.

Sims made his suggestion in the context of Sauder’s remark that he expected that some residents would strongly oppose the ban.

Issues related to deer have in the past proven to be contentious for Bloomington. In 2014, the city council approved an exception to the city’s ordinance prohibiting the discharge of firearms on city property, so that a deer cull could take place at the Griffy Lake Nature Preserve. Then-mayor Mark Kruzan vetoed the council’s action.

In his veto statement, Kruzen wrote in part:

As a matter of conscience, I cannot support the killing of deer in the community. Legalizing deer hunting in Bloomington will irreversibly change the nature of the community. I opposed hunting in State of Indiana forests when I served in the state legislature based on the same principle. I’ve never felt the same about our state parks since hunting was permitted and believe many people will likewise feel differently about the Griffy Nature Preserve once the killing of deer begins.

The city council then overrode the Kruzan’s veto.

This year, at the March 28 meeting of the board of park commissioners, a  $23,731 contract with White Buffalo, Inc. was given routine approval for the 2023 deer hunt at Griffy Lake. According to the staff memo in the board’s meeting information packet, the number of deer killed during previous hunts breaks down like this: 62 (2017); 26 (2019); 40 (2020); 47 (2021); and 46 (2022).

Deer Complaints in Bloomington’s uReport System

9 thoughts on “Deer feeding ban to be mulled by Bloomington council, part of more than decade-old conflict

    1. Did you read beyond the abstract? It’s about feeder sites on mostly private property where deer populations are managed for canned hunting. Small effects, and much different environments than Bloomington backyards.

    2. So Kent, are you willing to actually make a claim? Why are these studies “of interest”? What is their relevance to the proposed ban? Do you understand this research to show that deer are not a significant vector of tick-borne diseases and therefore you should be allowed to keep your salt lick or whatever? Is it your contention that the proposed feeding ban hinges on whether or not the local urban deer population raises the risk of Lyme disease transmission?

  1. Wouldn’t banning humans from Bloomington solve the problem too?

  2. I support the deer feeding ban and for all the reasons given here. If you care about animals, ban factory farms.

  3. I think a census and perhaps tagging deers would be helpful. For example In South Africa wildlife areas they seem to know the animals. How many there are for example. I’m not expert on this but you get that sense. It would be helpful to MANAGE the deer. Perhaps have a shepherd / manager, know how many, give them tick repellent in controlled feeding stations.

  4. I thought killing all the deer in Griffy Nature Preserve was going to solve the problem of deer in the city.

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