White-tailed Deer Management at Cordillera Ranch

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By Matt Haire, Lenny Tomasini and Shane Reynolds, Cordillera Ranch | Photography by Kelsey Grudle

Cordillera Ranch is entering its third year trapping white-tailed deer as part of our overall Wildlife Management Plan (WMP). The Wildlife Management Plan is the first step any landowner in Texas must complete in order to apply for any wildlife management permit issued by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD). The WMP at Cordillera Ranch was developed under the leadership of TPWD District Leader, Rufus Stephens. The TPWD District is made up of biologists, wildlife technicians and technical guidance biologists.

A Wildlife Management Plan gives information on a property’s historic and current use, establishes goals for the property and provides a set of activities designed to integrate wildlife and habitat improvements to meet goals. The WMP at Cordillera Ranch was designed to meet the needs of the white-tailed deer as well as the needs and desires of the overall development of Cordillera Ranch and its property owners. The WMP addresses the requirements of the white-tailed deer based on the habitat available as well as its potential availability. During the course of the WMP development, several deer censuses were taken and it was estimated there were 2,500 white-tailed deer on approximately 5,000 acres. This one deer per two acre ratio was approximately five times what the wildlife biologists estimated the carrying capacity should be; a one deer per ten acre ratio was recommended. When the deer per acre ratio is out of balance, it has a detrimental impact on the overall health of the native deer on the ranch. So it was recommended that measures should be taken to try to reverse the increasing number of deer and decrease the deer per acre ratio.

To be clear though, Cordillera Ranch greatly values the natural wildlife that are so important to the Hill Country and such a natural attraction; the WMP in NO WAY is an attempt to eliminate deer or reduce them to the point that you don’t see them in the landscape. We all want to see them as we drive through the community; we just don’t want to see them in such great numbers that they are covering the roadways and causing an ecosystem imbalance.

Deer management in Texas has changed dramatically in the past few years. With new and more diverse permits now available from TPWD, land managers have more flexibility now than ever before to improve the quality of their white-tailed deer population. However, with more choices comes more potential for confusion.

Cordillera Ranch has a Trap, Transport & Process Permit (TTP) that allows the Cordillera Ranch Property Owners Association (CRPOA), using a licensed contractor, to setup large traps (drop nets) throughout the community. The TTP is a permit mechanism to help reduce deer population densities in areas where white-tailed deer are overpopulated. Through use of this permit, areas with surplus white-tailed deer can be trapped and donated to a processing facility that then sends the meat on to charitable organizations for human consumption. Under the TTP, captured deer at Cordillera Ranch are transported live to a processing facility where they are subsequently killed and processed. All deer captured pursuant to this permit must be handled and killed in a humane manner. The CRPOA TTP allows deer to be trapped and processed from October 1 through March 31.

Within the scope of the Cordillera Ranch Wildlife Management Plan, the contractor engaged by the CRPOA has been able to capture enough deer to keep the population flat but reducing the deer per acre ratio has been difficult thus far. CRPOA staff and management met with the contractor this summer to evaluate ways to improve the harvest numbers (it is important to note that the contractor only gets paid for deer captured — there is no flat fee). One of the biggest challenges the CRPOA has in generating higher trapping numbers is the number of available trap sites and locations that are close in proximity so they can efficiently be monitored and activated. CRPOA has traps setup on as many CRPOA-owned sites that meet the contractor’s criteria but could use more sites. The CRPOA owns only a very small portion of the land in Cordillera Ranch. This has presented a challenge and proven to be more difficult than originally anticipated. As a result, some property owners have offered their lots for use in certain situations. For those who have offered the use of their land, we are grateful.

The CRPOA Board has approved a payment of $100, the equivalent of the most recent Deer Harvest Special Assessment for 2015, to each property owner that volunteers the use of their land AND for which the property is actually utilized as a trapping site. For a site to work, it must meet the following conditions:

1.  Must be visible from a roadway to allow our trappers to trigger the release on the net after visually confirming presence of deer.

2. Must be fairly flat and free of objects such as trees and larger rocks for an area approximately 80-100 feet in diameter.

3. Vehicles must be able to get within 150 feet of the trapping site.

Once we have confirmed the site meets our terrain requirements, we will begin the process by mowing the area around where the net will be erected and a feeder will be installed to attract deer to this specific site. A number of these sites have already been prepped around the community if you would like to see what they look like. There are sites clearly visible from the road on Sun River, Verde Point and Rio Cordillera.

Lenny Tomasini, the CRPOA Maintenance Manager, along with Matt Haire, CRPOA Manager, attended the Deer Management Symposium at Texas State University in May of 2015. Several deer management methods were discussed at this symposium but the research re-affirmed that for the situation at Cordillera Ranch the TTP program is the best method to continue using when considering cost efficiency and effectiveness.  Under the agreement with the CRPOA Contractor, the POA pays $125 per white-tailed deer captured and $25 per deer to process. If the contractor fails to catch deer, they are not compensated. Any exotic deer caught in the net inadvertently may be sold by the contractor, with the CRPOA receiving 50 percent of the sale.

It should also be reminded that feeding deer on your property in Cordillera Ranch is prohibited (with the exception of properties being used for the TTP program). CRPOA staff will be more aggressively pursuing fines for those violating this rule as it is completely counter to the TTP efforts.

With a habitat the size of Cordillera Ranch and the limitations we have managing white-tailed deer (no hunting, no exterior high fence, etc.), it’s easy to understand why this issue is not a simple one.

If you’re willing to allow us to evaluate your property as a potential trapping site or have any questions, please call the office and speak to Lenny Tomasini or Matt Haire at 830.336.3501.

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