It's a cold, quiet afternoon in Queeny Park when suddenly a deer jumps out of the backyard at Amal Salem's house. Salem, a long-time resident of Town and Country, shares land with the unincorporated park. She says she doesn't mind the deer, even if they sometimes damage her yard.
"I love the deer," Salem, a native of Jordan, said. "They add life to my life."
However, not everyone agrees with Salem. A sharp decrease in the city's budget this year has resulted in a deer management debate among Town and Country residents.
Last year, Town and Country's deer management program had a budget of $150,000, which was spent on the sterilization of 100 deer and the removal of 112 deer through sharpshooting. According to a report this January by White Buffalo, the company contracted for the deer-control task, the results of last year's project were significant, but the deer management issue in Town and Country "requires ongoing attention."
With a budget of only $10,000 for deer management this year, residents now have to reach into their pockets and donate their own money to continue any type of deer management program in the city. Donors are given the choice to donate their money either to sharpshooting or sterilization methods.
"It's democracy at its best," said Captain Gary Hoelzer of the Town and Country Police Department, recalling the words of one of the aldermen. "Our residents ought to be commended because the deer management activities that will occur this year would not have occurred without private funding. Our residents stepped up and voted with their dollar and said 'we need deer management.' They are paying most of the bill this year."
Chuck Lenz, a resident of Town and Country, said he does not feel it should be up to the residents to pick up the bill for deer management.
"This is a public and health issue, and the city needs to find a way to finance it," Lenz said. "If they can have a Fourth of July celebration and spend money on that, they should have money to spend on this."
Lenz, who donated money toward sharpshooting, said next year the city better come up with a way to increase the budget for deer management.
"This year is a one-time only type of thing," Lenz said. "They are not going to get people to pay year after year for deer management. I would rather give my money to the Salvation Army than to the city to kill deer."
But even if next year residents paid the same amount of money to control deer—roughly $30,000 for each control method—it wouldn't be enough to solve the problem.
Anthony DeNicola, president of White Buffalo, said this year's efforts will only prevent the deer population from increasing. DeNicola, whose company operates out of Connecticut, said he has seen the same problem in other cities caught in the middle of a struggling economy. He said, however, that cities ought to make deer management a priority if they want to reduce the population of deer.
"I feel sorry for you because the budget is tight," DeNicola said. "But if you run a golf course and you want your turf to be at a certain length, you have to maintain it. It's not going to stay the way you want it because you want it that way. Even after you reduce them (deer), there has to be a maintenance level or the population will get back to where it started."
Another factor that will get in the way of controlling deer will be St. Louis County's refusal to allow deer control in Queeny Park, which belongs to the county and not Town and Country.
"Queeny Park harbors a lot of deer," Hoelzer explained. "St. Louis County does not allow any type of deer management in Queeny Park and so the deer are free to propagate and explode in population."
Lindsay Swanick, director of St. Louis County Parks and Recreation, said she understands the deer love Queeny park, but does not think it is the county's job to control the population of deer.
"It's not our job," Swanick said. "I refuse to get in the middle of this battle. I feel that shooting and killing deer is not an acceptable method of managing deer in an active urban county park."
Town and Country Mayor Jon Dalton says the county not getting involved is part of the problem. He said there is an average of one car-versus-deer accident each week in Town and Country and it's a public safety issue.
Meanwhile, the department of conservation said that the healthy number of deer in Town and Country should be 20 to 30 deer per square mile. Until next year rolls around, the city will continue to have an average of 60 to 80 deer per square mile.
Some residents though, are not bothered by the number of deer.
"I don't mind them," said Salem, who is not in favor of either deer control methods. "They ate my trees, so now I plant trees that they won't eat. They cross the street suddenly, so I drive slowly and carefully. They are one of the reasons I love living in Town and Country."