Deer culling in Kahite has Tellico Village community divided – Knoxville News Sentinel

TELLICO VILLAGE, Tenn. – The deer herd culling has begun in a retirement community in Monroe County even as two sides continue to bicker over whether it is necessary.

“Two things we don’t talk about here are who you voted for and deer,” said Alan Hammersmith who is steadfastly against killing deer to diminish overcrowding in the Kahite community of Tellico Village that sits on the shores of Tellico Lake near Vonore. “There are some people not speaking to each other.”

Both sides admit there are plenty of deer in Kahite. The community is in an unusual spot on a peninsula, meaning deer come into the area and, because of the high supply of food, usually don’t leave.

A battle has brewed at least since 2010 about reducing the deer population. One side says the deer are destroying gardens, causing car wrecks, robbing the forest of new growth, leaving scat everywhere and, all in all, ruining the neighborhood.

The other side says the deer population isn’t that bad — in fact, its numbers are going down — and people buying homes in wooded East Tennessee should have known there would be deer.

An effort to pare the deer population was attempted in 2015, but was put on hold.

It was restarted early in 2016 when a group called the Kahite Resource Committee was formed to deal what it considered is an out-of-control deer problem. Now led by Robert Jankowski, the group spent the better part of a year in an exhaustive study to determine the number of deer in the area and how best to bring down the population.

Members of the committee said they realize killing deer is an emotional issue.

“We love deer,” Mary Reif said. “But they are hurting.”

The group points out evidence of inbreeding, hip injuries, warts and other problems that are signs of the herd’s over-population.

Jankowski said 80 percent of Kahite residents want something done — although that percentage, like most numbers involved in the community debate, is questioned by the opposition.

“They will dispute everything we say,” Jankowski said.

Surveys and solutions

In April, the committee began a survey to determine the size of the herd in the roughly square mile area Kahite occupies. It stationed spotters, in groups of two or more, at 26 locations and had them count deer from 6:45-7 p.m. for two days in a row in November.

The total they came up with was 358 deer. The group had been communicating with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, which informed them that the area should be holding only 40 or 50.

Some members of the faction seeking to prevent any deer killing were among the counters, but quit over what they considered pressure to increase the deer count number.

Hammersmith said numbers from the counts of individual counters never were shared “because it (the final total) was inflated” and they wouldn’t add up.

The committee presented its findings to the TWRA along with statistics compiled from 81 residents that showed $68,974 estimated in garden and landscaping damage, $23,122 in damage to vehicles struck by deer, and 26 dead deer found.

The TWRA approved a depredation permit acknowledging the need to bring down the deer population; committee members say it is the first one offered to a community in Tennessee.

In a news release, TWRA spokesman Mime Barnes pointed out, “The agency is not involved in the final decision of any community or individual landowner. The agency provides biological data and possible actions a community can consider for reducing deer populations.”

Jankowski said the committee settled on culling the herd to 120 deer as a goal to reach over two years – more than double the TWRA’s recommended number of 40 to 50.

The committee contacted numerous authorities and went through numerous possible ways to cut the deer population, including sterilization, removal and building a large fence. For various reasons, all but one were rejected – hiring hunters to shoot the deer.

“This was considered the most humane way,” Jankowski said. “One shot to the head. Over instantly.”

The committee hired the Tellico Village Marksmen, a group of firearms experts. It was decided shooters would man five of the 19 stations designated in the community twice a week for 1½ hours before sunset. The culling, which began this week, would be held in February for the next two years.

Jankowski said there has been much thought and effort put into the operation:

Committee members said the program in Kahite is being watched closely by other areas of the state, including other parts of Tellico Village, because they are starting to experience the same overpopulation problems.

Opposition targets arguments

Jankowski said he believes the opposition to the deer culling is a small, but very vocal group. Hammersmith contends the committee doesn’t have near the support it contends.

Admittedly with little documentation of its own, the opposition is buying almost nothing the committee is saying. They’ve been threatening lawsuits, calling congressmen, stuffing mailboxes with flyers and calling the media.

Bill Orcutt, a resident opposed to the deer culling, is especially upset about the way the shooting is being conducted.

“Conducting an open shooting environment in 17 locations, with one day’s notice and not even notifying the community where to stay away from is unheard of, outrageous,” he said. “It just takes one ricochet.”

Hammersmith points to the community golf course. He said he talked to the course manager, who told him they hadn’t spent any money to fix damages that would have been done by deer.

“As critical as the golf course is to Kahite, if the deer were that bad (to damage the golf course) they would be destroyed,” Orcutt said.

The committee said it believes the golf course personnel are not complaining about deer because they fear bad publicity.

Orcutt said he believes the deer population already is going down because nearby Black Farm has begun its own deer herd culling.

Hammersmith said he believes this is all just about deer messing up gardens, a fact he does not dispute, but adds, “Since when is eating plants and bushes a capital offense?”

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