CASH Courier > 2004 Spring Issue

Selected Articles from our newsletter

The C.A.S.H. Courier


Written by Kelly Faris and Laura Hutchinson,
Coalition to Save Our Deer

C.A.S.H. was in close phone and e-mail contact with Laura throughout this ordeal. Knowing that our side is never told, we asked to publish their story and Toby’s.

For decades deer have roamed the property where the 78-acre Minneapolis Waterworks-Columbia Heights facility now stands. At one time, the property was a dense forest known as Peck’s woods. However, as the first-ring Minneapolis suburb of Columbia Heights grew, the area became more urbanized. Though the Waterworks property eventually became fenced-off, the gates remained open allowing the deer and other wildlife to freely come and go. It wasn’t until the events of September 11, 2001 that the Waterworks gates were locked, causing 14 deer to become trapped inside. For the past several years, this herd has been fenced inside the area with no means of escape and allowed to multiply.

Over the years, watching the Waterworks deer had been a source of pleasure for the residents who live around the facility, which is today completely surrounded by homes, a senior housing complex, and an elementary school. These residents have enjoyed feeding the deer and getting to know their different personalities. The deer, meanwhile, have become tamer as they’ve come to trust the residents. Yet on December 31, 2003 that trust was betrayed when a group of 11 bow hunters and their field-dressing entourage was allowed to enter the Waterworks facility and shatter this peaceful neighborhood.

The travesty began in September of 2003, when Minneapolis Waterworks staff were contacted by a citizen who was concerned that the deer inside the facility were starving. The head of the Waterworks, Adam Kramer, called Columbia Heights Mayor, Julienne Wyckoff, and suggested she put together a task force to decide what to do. Mayor Wyckoff quickly assembled a group of five residents who lived in the immediate vicinity of the Waterworks property.

The first deer task force meeting was held at 2:00 PM on October 23, 2003 and was not publicly announced. Residents who had heard about the meeting and who attempted to attend were turned away, being told it was for task force members only. In attendance at the meeting were two representatives from the Waterworks, the Columbia Heights Chief of Police and Mayor Julienne Wyckoff. Almost immediately the topic of a bow hunt came up, and three of the five task force members as well as the WW representatives gave the idea their instant approval. While no official count had been done on the deer at this point, the Waterworks staff kept insisting the total number was 55. Tempers flared and it was decided the group should meet again two weeks later.

It was at this point that three residents who lived directly across from the Waterworks put up a sign in one resident’s front yard and started a petition to save the deer. In the space of four days, they collected over 220 signatures, the majority of them from people who drove by and stopped their cars to sign the petition. This petition was then presented to the Columbia Heights City Council on October 27, 2003 who accepted the petition but did nothing further with it.

On November 8th, a local television station ran a story on the Waterworks deer on the 10:00 PM news. Immediately the traffic on the road where the petition had been on display increased dramatically. People came from all over Minnesota and Wisconsin bringing corn, apples, carrots, pumpkin, squash, alfalfa, etc. for the deer. A teacher from a local elementary school stopped by with a huge box of apples the children had donated from their lunches to give to the deer. Most of the people who came to feed the deer all said one thing in common, “they don’t look like they’re starving to me!”

At the second task force meeting held Nov. 10th, the Waterworks brought in a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) representative who stated their position on deer management. In addition, one of the task force members brought in some members of a local bow hunting club, who spent a good part of the rest of the meeting discussing how they would handle a hunt of the Waterworks deer. It was at this point that the group Coalition to Save Our Deer announced their formation and presented the case that it would be cruel to hunt down captive, tame deer, requesting more time so that experts could be called in to assess the situation. The Coalition was granted a total of one week to obtain this information.

During that week, the Coalition brought in two veterinarians who specialized in large animals from the University of Minnesota to observe the deer and write up a report on their findings. In addition, information obtained from animal groups such as the Fund for Animals and the Humane Society of the United States on non-lethal methods of deer management was shared with the Columbia Heights City Council and to the task force members.

The professors’ results were discussed at the third and final task force meeting held on November 17th. Unfortunately, the professors, who had viewed the deer at a distance in a squad car, had determined the deer were malnourished, full of parasites, inbred, and that most would die over the winter without extra food. Immediately following the report findings was a presentation in which one of the Coalition members participated on the controversial group White Buffalo, Inc. White Buffalo had offered to use SpayVac on the Waterworks deer and cull the herd in a more humane manner. The Coalition said that they would be willing to fund the White Buffalo project so that there would be absolutely no taxpayer money involved. In addition, the Coalition also offered to set up a feeding program for the deer, beginning with the $400.00 that was offered by residents at the meeting. The Waterworks and Columbia Heights officials seemed intrigued by this creative approach to wildlife management and agreed to look into it. However, a motion was then quickly placed by one task force member to thin the herd to 10 using bow hunters. This motion was amended by another member to thin the herd to 20. A vote was taken and it ended up being 4 to 1 in favor of a bow hunt. Nevertheless, the Waterworks at this point agreed to go ahead with White Buffalo pending the necessary permit from the DNR for the use of SpayVac. The task force was then given the impression that nothing would happen to the deer (bow hunt or SpayVac) until March of 2004.

Suddenly on the evening of December 29th, 2003, one of the Coalition members learned that a hunt had been planned by the Waterworks which would begin at 6:00 AM on December 31, 2003, the last day of the archery season. Coalition members immediately moved into action, calling authorities for help, holding protests, and alerting the media. Their efforts, however, proved to be in vain.

At 5:00 AM on December 31, protesters gathered at the gate of the Waterworks and watched helplessly as two vanloads of hunters and their field dressers entered the facility by a number of police squads. The protestors stood vigilantly until 5:00 PM that day, witnessing deer running terrified for their lives from the humans on foot and in squad cars only to be herded into an area enclosed with a snow fence. Deer were seen attempting to run with broken rear legs, one of which ended up being chased for three hours by a police squad until it was “taken care of” as the protestors were told. A doe and her two fawns were attempting to hide in some brush away from the killing area, only to later be chased out by a police squad to the waiting hunters. The three were never seen again. After all was said and done, a total of 38 deer were killed in the massacre (34 does and fawns, 2 antlerless bucks, and 2 deer that had to be “taken care of”).

After much public outcry, a deer management meeting was organized by Minnesota State Representative Barb Goodwin. The meeting was held in Columbia Heights on January 28th, 2004 with a panel of authorities from the Minnesota DNR, Waterworks, and the City of Columbia Heights and over 200 people attended. Unfortunately, this meeting ended up raising many more questions than it answered! For example, the Waterworks staff claim that the DNR turned down the SpayVac application on or before December 29, 2003; however, the DNR letter denying the application of White Buffalo was dated January 6, 2004! In addition, Representative Goodwin read the State statutes on the definition of “captive” animals--which these deer definitely are--and it appears that the DNR never even had jurisdiction over the Waterworks deer in the first place! Interestingly, a vote taken at the meeting showed that 40 out of 59 Columbia Heights residents in attendance wanted a non-lethal method of management to be used on the Waterworks deer in the future.

After nearly five years and after at least three requests for a management plan by the DNR (in May 1999, January 2001, and September 2003), the Waterworks has done nothing. Currently the Waterworks is requesting yet another task force be established to study the issue, stating they want zero deer in 2-4 years. Waterworks Head Adam Kramer has further proclaimed that he wants no further feeding of the deer until a new management plan has been approved (even though both the Humane Society of the United States and the DNR have stated that there is not sufficient forage available for the animals to survive on in our harsh winter climate).

Since the massacre of December 31, the Waterworks officials claim there are still over 40 deer remaining, despite residents witnessing only 17. The remaining deer are extremely skittish, only coming out late at night and running away when a human approaches. The personalities of these deer are a far cry from the way they were before they knew the harm humans could bring them.

The Coalition to Save Our Deer has set up a fund to cover the costs of non-lethal humane management options (i.e., immunocontraception) for the Waterworks deer.

Anyone wishing to donate money for the captive deer in Columbia Heights may do so by sending checks made out to:

Coalition to Save Our Deer
P.O. Box 21212
940 44th Avenue N.E.
Columbia Heights, MN 55421

Donations will be deposited with US Bank, 5250 Central Avenue N.E. in Columbia Heights. A donation of $25 or more will receive a Water Works deer print donated by Artist Andy Ostazeski of Columbia Heights.

Our e-mail address is:
[email protected]

Return to Spring 2004 Issue


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