Trapped in fence, deer are put down
The echoes from three rifle blasts pierced through the light snow falling in Thaynes Canyon Wednesday morning, fast-fading dirges for two deer, apparently victims of developing leg muscles that were not strong enough to propel them over a fence.
The scene at just after 11 a.m. was somber as the police and wildlife officials tried to rescue the animals — mule deer, a plentiful species in the Park City area. Separated by a few dozen yards, they were lodged between the iron bars of a fence protecting the Glenwood Cemetery, their bodies midway through the 5 1/2-inch gaps between the bars.
Dave Swenson, the Division of Wildlife Resources officer who put the two animals down, says they were fawns, both bucks, likely born in late May or June. They might have been feeding along the nearby Park City Golf Course and the two could have been with their mothers, he speculates.
Perhaps the mothers easily leapt over the fence, which stands 56 inches above the snow, leaving the bucks to try to follow them. They could not. Instead they attempted to squeeze through the openings from the outside of the cemetery, getting their heads and necks to the other side but not their growing torsos. Swenson is unsure how long the two were stuck but says that they tried to free themselves, fidgeting and fighting the bars.
"They had struggled to the point they had worn through the hide to the muscle," he says.
Swenson says the Summit County Sheriff’s Office contacted him at about 9:45 a.m. He arrived 30 minutes later. He says one of the deer was cut badly when he arrived. He quickly put down that animal with two shots to the head with a .22-caliber rifle.
The other was in better condition, he says, but Swenson was unable to save the animal. Swenson freed the deer but it quickly stumbled. He says the deer’s hind legs were badly injured and it was unable to walk. One more rifle shot rang out as he destroyed the second deer.
"It was miserable. I don’t enjoy that part of the job," he says.
The two were the second and third deer euthanized in October after becoming lodged in the fence, according to Swenson. He says the previous animal was stuck about 100 feet east of the two killed on Wednesday. That deer, which was put down Oct. 4, was inside the cemetery trying to get out.
The wildlife division estimates that there are 296,000 mule deer in Utah this fall and the population has been increasing in most regions of the state in the last two or three years. An estimated 24,500 mule deer live in the Summit County area, stretching through regions roughly bounded by Kamas, Chalk Creek and East Canyon.
Craig McLaughlin, who tracks big game population for the wildlife division, says the numbers climbed as Utah exited a drought earlier in the decade.
According to the wildlife division, mule deer live at higher elevations in the summer and descend to lower terrain for the winter. This week was one of the coldest of the season and snow reached the lower elevations of Park City.
The nature of the three mercy killings was unusual in Park City, where the authorities are infrequently summoned to put down deer or other wildlife. Lots of those that are destroyed were injured in auto accidents and cannot be saved.
Swenson says that he prefers that fences be designed differently, with the upright bars either closer together, so animals do not try to squeeze through, or further apart so they can make it through.
Jim Sessions, the building manager at the Three Kings condominiums, near the cemetery, says he was on a security round in the complex, pulling out garbage cans, when he noticed one of the deer. He says he called Summit County Animal Control and then the Park City Police Department.
He says he has seen four or five deer stuck in the fence, including the two on Wednesday, over the past five years. Each was destroyed, Sessions says.
"They tear their sides up trying to get out," he says, adding, "If they’re small enough, they can’t jump the fence."
In the aftermath, Glenwood officials and neighbors are considering options to try to protect wildlife.
Hal Compton, the president of the Glenwood Cemetery Association, says wire, perhaps chicken wire, could be placed over the fence, blocking the space between the bars. He says, though, that the association has not made a decision and details from others were not available at the end of the week.
"That’s just too many too fast," Sessions says. "I kind of felt sad for him. You could see he was in pain, not the right way to go."
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Buses, trains and gondolas doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, but they make up the transit alternatives for the mountain transportation system the Central Wasatch Commission is trying to create, mostly in the Cottonwood canyons.