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It often happens that when you solve one problem you create another.

Cities and towns all across Montana are struggling to deal with a growing urban deer population. The issue was brought up last week at a city council meeting in Malta when a resident complained deer had moved into her mother’s carport and were eating the flowers in her yard.

“Something needs to be done,” Mayor John Demarais said. “I just don’t know what.”

People in town have even begun shooting the deer with paintball guns.

“If you see painted deer, that’s why,” Demarais said.

Urban deer are a relatively new problem. Deer didn’t used to hang out in town. They couldn’t. Dogs would run them off.

But folks complained about the dogs. Leash laws and city ordinances were enacted to put an end to free-roaming canines. And while that solved the problem of loose dogs getting into the trash and pooping on the sidewalk, it made towns with their irrigated lawns and well-tended gardens a veritable buffet for deer.

There’s no easy answer. It’s illegal to discharge firearms within city limits, and although bow hunting has been allowed in some urban areas, the sight of a deer with an arrow sticking out of it offends too many people.

It used to be that you could call your neighbor and raise hell when his mutt tipped over your garbage cans. Now, when a muley poops in your yard and eats your shrubs, who do you call? The city? The Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks? No one’s taking responsibility.

The city of Helena has spent thousands of dollars to cull its urban deer herd with no end in sight. More than 1,000 deer have been killed there in the past 10 years with more than 30,000 pounds of meat donated to local food banks. The deer are trapped and then dispatched with bolt guns. Most small communities in Montana, however, don’t have the money to follow suit.

An easy solution would be to just let the dogs out, but there’s little chance of that happening.

At Fort Belknap, animal control officers have just this month begun rounding up strays and abandoned dogs roaming the reservation. They plan to pick up all unleashed dogs.

They may not be aware that they’re simply exchanging one problem for another.

And no one has an easy solution for this one.

Parker Heinlein is at

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