Townsfolk in Silver City, New Mexico, take great pride in the wild and rugged way of life offered by this sparsely populated rural county located in the southwestern region of the state.
The seat of government in Grant County, Silver City is where the community's 10,000-plus residents congregate to appreciate the mountainous countryside, the lure of the dense Gila National Forest, and the mysterious and ancient Native American history and lore woven into the fabric of the landscape.
They also love the abundant wildlife of the region and the opportunities it provides to hike, explore, hunt, fish and live in such a well balanced outdoor paradise.
But in recent years the encroachment of that wildlife into a vibrant and growing rural community has concerned many of the townspeople. Mule deer have been infiltrating the community in growing numbers, lumbering down from the mountains and forest and targeting landscaped yards and gardens as feeding areas.
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What at first may have been viewed as a perk to living in the pristine New Mexico backcountry quickly turned into an ecological concern. Some residents claim the large deer are damaging the landscape of homes and lodgings. Of equal concern, they say, is the growing potential for traffic mishaps from deer because they have lost their fear of human contact.
City officials called on the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish last year with concerns and after several meetings, state and local officials initiated a program involving live trapping the deer. For the second consecutive year, the program is underway this week as state biologist and university students and staff use large drop ropes to capture the animals at various locations throughout the community.
New Mexico Department of Game & Fish biologist Ryan Darr reports the captured animals are being tagged and in many instances equipped with radio locators and then transported to areas where mule deer herds have been declining in recent years.
"Due to concerns for public safety and to help alleviate damage to private property, the department plans to capture and relocate 100 mule deer from Silver City," Darr reported in a prepared release earlier this week.
He says the program is designed to provide a method of continued removal and relocation of mule deer from the town's populated areas.
The capture, which began Tuesday, is expected to take about five days. Some 30 department staff members, including biologists and conservation officers, are assisted by volunteers from New Mexico State University (NMSU) who will aid in the trapping and relocation of the deer.
Darr says biologists will administer veterinary care to each of the deer captured. In addition to ear and radio transmitter tags for bucks, veterinarians also implant a few pregnant does with transmitters to determine the location of fawns once they are born. Researchers will use the radio transmitters to track the deer after their release.
Wildlife officials say the deer will be released far from population areas to sites where they hope to boost declining mule deer populations. Officials say about half of the deer will be released in the San Francisco River Valley and the remaining animals will be relocated to the Peloncillo Mountains.
Biologists say the relocated animals will have a better chance of adapting to these high-quality habitat areas.
Professor James Cain of NMSU says the subsequent research and tracking of relocated animals will help provide biologists with insights into the effectiveness of relocating mule deer from urban areas. In addition, the program objective involves bolstering low or declining mule deer populations in undeveloped natural habitats.
The results of the study could lead to new ways for biologists to restore mule deer herds that are in decline in other parts of the Southwest.