deer fence

Locals are trying to figure out some way to keep deer from impaling themselves on this fence on Westside Road, but since it's private property with an absentee owner they find there's little they can do.

Mario Locatelli made a gruesome discovery as he passed a home on Westside Road Wednesday — a fawn impaled upon a fence. It was the third fawn he found so far this year on the same fence.

The sight upset Locatelli, as it has for others driving past the home off Wyant Lane. The fawn was on a spike halfway up the wrought-iron fence that stands about 6 feet tall, with fleur-de-lis flourishes along the top. The fence also is next to a tree filled with ripe, red apples.

"He was on the middle spike yesterday, and looks like he slid off," Locatelli said Thursday morning. "A month ago, there was another on the fence, and another about three months ago.

"They all are fawns. I guess their mother gets over and the fawn follows her and ends up getting in trouble."

Timothy Pfister of Billings bought the home about four years ago, and the fence dates back to 2000 or 2002.  He wasn't aware that it was causing a problem for the deer, and said he is willing to work with people who are upset that deer are dying when they try to leap in or out of the yard, as long as it doesn't cost him anything.

"I have no idea what to do about it," Pfister said. "It's a long span, and an expensive span to change. ... I'm not opposed to coming up with a solution."

The problem with deer impaling themselves on this particular fence has perplexed fish and wildlife advocates and game wardens for years. Tony Jones with the Ravalli County Fish and Wildlife Association said they discussed the fence awhile ago, but weren't able to come up with any solutions.

"We kicked it around at one of our meetings, but what could we do?" Jones said. "The fence is on the property line and we would have to come outside and basically build another fence, but the cost to put in a fence, and put it far enough away that they couldn't jump it, was too expensive. And it's such a big piece of property."

He said they also talked about putting old tennis balls on the spikes, but noted that it's a private fence so they can't do much with it.

"We couldn't come up with anything," he said. "You would think it would be something the landowner would address."

Pfister doesn't like the aesthetics of tennis balls, but noted that if they could come up with some other visually appealing protection for the lower spikes, he's willing to listen. He also suggested that perhaps the middle spikes — which are the ones that appear to be causing the most problems — could be cut down by about 6 inches to create a less deadly fence for the deer. 

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Game Warden Aaron Berg said they get a few calls a year about deer or fawns being impaled on the fence, and if they're still alive but suffering he's dispatched them. But wardens are plenty busy with their mandated duties, and since the fence is private, they won't respond to calls to remove dead deer from the fence.

"It's hard, but there's not much we can do about it," Berg said. "There's no law that says no fence, and no law that specifies the design unless it's something through a homeowners association or there are covenants."

He added that the dead deer can pose a biological hazard when they're being removed from the spikes.

"Trying to lift a large animal off a fence by yourself, you can get bodily fluids all over, which pose a potential biological hazard," Berg said. "We have so many other things to do, and picking up dead deer is not necessarily on our list of job duties."

Berg noted that the fence is across the street from an undeveloped wooded area, and that people drive fairly fast along Westside Road, which may exacerbate the problem.

"That might push the deer to the brink, where they feel like they have to jump. So I think some of this is vehicle-based," Berg said. "It's an urban setting with a lot of deer; it seems like a deer magnet for some reason."