Written by Kelly Faris and Laura
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
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
Our e-mail address is: