From the deer's viewpoint, people have displaced and crowded their herds, which depend on the natural forage that is wiped out when subdivisions are built. Some human residents are exasperated by deer chewing on their fruit trees and plants, or wandering into yards and roads in this North Side suburb. And other humans, who are happy to coexist with their four-legged neighbors, are fed up with Hollywood Park's ban on feeding them - and upset that police could have the right to shoot the deer in the street.

In mid-December, Hollywood Park's City Council crossed antlers with local animal lovers and banned the practice of feeding the city's deer population, which lost access to its Hill Country habitat after U.S. 281 and Loop 1604 were built to the north and east of Hollywood Park, a San Antonio suburb that was incorporated in 1955.

And at last week's City Council meeting about the ban, some residents brought their children, who stood on the curbside of Mecca Drive and held signs that read "Don't Starve Bambi," and "We Want Our Rights Back." The sign on the marquee in front of City Hall read, "Council Meeting at 7 p.m., Deer Feeding Prohibited."

Rebellious residents claim that their elected officials have not represented their interests in adopting an ordinance against feeding the deer - and that City Police are enforcing the law and issuing citations to residents who continue to do so. "I want my rights as a homeowner back," one Hollywood Park resident protested last week. "What's with the Gestapo tactics at City Hall?"

"At least four people have gotten tickets," resident Bob White said. "People are putting bird seed out and the Hollywood Park police are giving them a damn ticket. Something has gone crazy."

Shirley Matter, who has lived in Hollywood Park for 40 years, said she was ticketed because she consented to an interview with a local TV station about the practice of feeding deer in Hollywood Park. A citation arrived at her home via certified mail. "They saw me on TV and they sent a ticket." Her court date is March 5.

"They did this without asking the public," Matter said in reference to the feeding ban.

"We want our town back like it used to be," longtime resident Cherie Emick said. "We should be able to feed animals in our own yard."

Hollywood Park deer lovers will get little help from Texas Parks and Wildlife; the advice from Jerry Cooke, chief of TPW's game branch division is simply, don't feed the deer. This will encourage the herds to seek natural habitat away from populated areas, instead of hanging around neighborhoods where residents feed them.

TPW also could issue a depredation permit to Hollywood Park police, which allows officers to shoot the animals and remove the carcasses - in full view of the community's children if the officers are indiscreet.

Deer-loving citizens have formed the Hollywood Park Humane Society, and member Donald Yena delivered 527 letters to Mayor Harold Burris during the Council's citizen communication session. "We are responsible for this," the letter reads. "We trapped the deer here with our highways and growth ... what kind of example are we setting for our children and the planet with these values?" The group demands that City Council rescind the feeding ban.

Hollywood Park's City Council is not alone in its struggle to cope with "The Deer Question." Residents of Lakeway on Lake Travis nearly came to blows when city officials obtained a deer depredation permit from TPW. But instead of killing deer and processing the meat for a local needy population - an option that some residents preferred - the City received permission to relocate several hundred deer to a ranch in México, until the Mexican government stopped the practice. TPW also allows a community to round up a portion of its deer population to be shipped to a game management area in Texas, but few of those places are available.

Hollywood Park residents who insist on feeding the deer could be on a quixotic quest. The Fund for Animals recommends modifying habitats to provide less food and shelter, which encourages animals to move elsewhere. A brochure distributed by the Animal Protection Institute recommends, "all artificial feeding of deer must be stopped. While one individual may wish to attract more deer to her property, a neighbor may be attempting to drive them away. Deer are responsive to human-initiated changes in their habitat by adapting to live in our midst. It is our responsibility to tolerate their presence and treat any conflicts in a humane manner."

The deer lovers of Hollywood Park maintain that The Deer Question should not be addressed by a small group of elected officials. They seek redress, and a final word on the subject, in a city-wide ballot. •

More by Michael Cary



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