SIOUX CITY | The Sioux City deer population is on the decline. But whether it's due to a 2012 ban on feeding deer and other wildlife -- or through urban hunting and natural deaths from disease -- is unclear.
The City Council enacted the ban two years ago to reduce traffic accidents and damage to plants caused by wild animals.
Doug Chafa, a wildlife biologist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, said the ordinance is an important part of a deer management program.
"It is a really good way to prevent habituating deer to people, and a really good way to prevent problems," Chafa said.
The City Council considered a similar ban in 2010 but backed off after a number of people said they wanted to feed the animals. Many people in the discussions in 2012 said they were tired of the damage to their properties caused by deer.
Frances Cummings lives on the city's north side near woodsy areas, and says the number of deer around her property seems to have decreased. After deer rubbed against and killed some evergreens, the Cummings family erected fences to stop them coming into the yard along 41st Street.
Cummings said when neighbors stopped feeding deer even prior to the ban, the numbers dropped off.
"I like the ban," she said.
Despite the downward trend in the number of deer in Sioux City, the number of reported collisions between vehicles and animals – most believed to be deer -- has held steady.
The Sioux City Police Department reported 59 collisions in 2010, 55 in 2011, 59 in 2012 and 61 in 2013.
As a provision of the ordinance, the city works with the Department of Natural Resources to control the deer population.
"We are trying to help homeowners not have their properties destroyed," said Sioux City police Capt. Marti Reilly.
Reilly said neighbors periodically call to complain about people feeding deer, but no one has been ticketed for feeding wildlife since the ban was enacted.
"We don't have the 'deer police' going out," Reilly said.
Chafa said the ban has value in letting people know their actions impact deer movement and population. Some people will take the ban to heart and comply, he said. Others won’t.
"I don't hold it against the police for not going around and ticketing people," he said.
Under the ordinance, police investigate complaints of people illegally feeding the animals. Residents still may feed birds and squirrels as well as plant flowers and trees that provide food for turkeys and deer.
Only those purposefully feeding turkeys and deer can be cited with a municipal infraction, which carries a fine of at least $65. They also can be charged with a simple misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $100 for a conviction.
Chafa said the city's permitted hunts, as well as disease, have helped reduce the deer population. Many deer in the city and Woodbury County have recently died from the onslaught of blue tongue disease caused by mite bites.
"There was some pretty severe mortality along the Missouri River," he said.
Chafa said his staff conducts an overnight count in the same area of the county each year. The number of deer seen in 2012 was 47, while the count in 2014 fell to 28.
In order to help winnow the deer population, the city allows bow hunting in certain circumstances approved by the Police Department.
There currently are 169 properties where permits for hunting have been approved. Some owners allow up to a dozen people to hunt on their land.
Reilly said bow hunting is only allowed on expansive parcels; hunting with a gun is not permitted. Some people living in neighborhoods with homes tightly packed together need to be realistic that deer hunting won't be approved, Reilly said.
"They are using razor-tipped hunting arrows that could be very injurious to people," he said. "We can't allow them to dangerously hunt."
The Department of Natural Resources doesn't have authority to oversee hunting in city limits, but conducted a deer management hunt in 2013 in Stone State Park on the city's west edge. Fourteen does were harvested in that hunt.
Ben Jackson, who lives on 46th Street, said he’s conflicted about the feeding ban, because he likes the animals. He doesn’t mind seeing deer in residential neighborhoods, he said, but hates to see them near major city highways, such as Outer Drive.
Like Cummings, the number of deer around his home also has dropped. Jackson used to see a group of deer about once a week; now that only happens roughly once a month.