Great Falls, Mont. (AP) – Wildlife agents have started killing more than a dozen mule and white-tailed deer trapped on Malmstrom Air Force Base by perimeter fence built in 2010, with base officials saying they are a hazard to operations.
Malmstrom chief of conservation Jason Gibbons tells the Great Falls Tribune (http://bit.ly/N8WUFm ) that U.S. Wildlife Services agents began shooting the deer this week after state wildlife officials issued a permit June 28.
"We wanted to address this issue with the deer before the numbers got too high,'' Gibbons said.
The estimated population of 13 deer on the base could increase to 36 in three years, said Channing Howard of Wildlife Services.
The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks permit allows up to 20 deer to be killed between now and September, said Mike Martin, FWP's warden captain in Great Falls.
Officials say the deer are being shot because they present human health and safety hazards and could increase operations costs, which could impact mission readiness. The base has a zero-tolerance policy toward large free-roaming animals on or adjacent to the aircraft movement.
Deer have been feeding within the helicopter movement area, increasing the potential for strikes and threatening the safety of pilots, officials said.
The 7.8-foot-tall chain-link perimeter fence was in 2010 installed for safety. The deer, which used to go back and forth before its installation, were unexpectedly confined.
Gibbons said herding the deer off the base was discounted because it would have required leaving the gates open for days, which would be a security breach.
A hunting program isn't allowed on base and there are no natural predators within the perimeter reduce their numbers, he said.
"If we had an effective way to manage deer, we'd implement it, but the base is too small,'' Gibbons said.
The meat from the killed deer won't be donated because the animals have been seen feeding on vegetation in an old ordnance disposal area, increasing the risk the meat is contaminated, Martin said.