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Port Townsend residents say deer have grown to "absurd" numbers

A deer tilts its head back licking a plastic cylinder filled with bird seed handing off a metal stand.
Elaine Thompson
/
AP
A black-tailed deer forgoes grazing on shrubs behind to feed from a bird feeder in a yard Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020, in Bellingham, Wash. Black-tailed deer are common in coastal woodlands throughout the Pacific Northwest.

Deer have been a fixture of Port Townsend for years. And judging by Youtube videos, residents' reactions to them are mixed — there's surprise, adoration, annoyance, even fear.

In one video Port Townsend Mayor David Faber posted last week, a deer followed him and a friend's dog several blocks. He said before he turned the camera on, he had to kick the deer to get it away at one point (he took the video a few years ago). Two dogs have been killed by deer in the last several years in Port Townsend, the mayor said.

Last week at a city council meeting, one resident said a deer kicked her in the head and knocked out several teeth.

Faber grew up in Port Townsend, and he said the deer population has grown exponentially. On a recent walk he counted nearly 50.

"It's a difference of magnitude now," Faber said. "There are tons. I mean, it's just absurd how many deer there are in town."

The city will embark on a count of its deer in the new year. While deer are very common in Washington, they don't generate as much conflict as elk or bears, according to Matt Blankenship, a wildlife conflict specialist with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

If the city goes forward with a formal management program, Port Townsend would become the first community on the West Coast to undertake such a protocol, Blankenship said. But before proposing anything new, Blankenship encouraged trying to figure out what is bringing deer into the city.

Such management plans can be controversial. In 2021, a homeowners’ association in nearby Sequim rejected a plan the department created last year that suggested trapping and culling deer, and harvesting their meat for local food banks and tribal agencies.

When Port Townsend has considered action in the past, it's also generated controversy.

"There's basically a bunch of letters back and forth in the local papers saying, 'hey, you know, we need to do more about the deer,' or 'no, we shouldn't do anything about the deer. They were here first,'" Faber said. "And I think those sort of attitudes and concerns, again, about taking on anything that has cost to it, that's not, like, a perfect solution — that sort of stops people from doing anything."

Port Townsend did change city code to prohibit feeding deer and birds in 2019, according to the Peninsula Daily News.

Scott Greenstone started off working at his community college newspaper before interning at NPR’s Weekend All Things Considered and covering homelessness for The Seattle Times. He co-produced the “Outsiders” podcast with KNKX, which was named one of TIME’s top 10 podcasts of 2020.
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