The bucolic setting that appeals to West Lakeland Township residents also has made it a haven for what officials say is a long-standing overabundance of deer.
The excessive deer population has raised health and safety concerns stemming from frequent deer-vehicle collisions and the potential for deer to spread Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses.
In an effort to thin the population, the Township Board has asked bowhunters from Urban Deer Management to hunt deer on the property of homeowners who give their permission. Bowhunting season lasts through Dec. 31.
The hunters follow Department of Natural Resources rules and regulations and will not enter private property without first contacting the owner, the township has told residents. They will hunt only from tree stands. Residents may ask to keep the deer, or the hunters typically donate it to food shelves.
The township has sought Urban Deer Management's help controlling the deer population every year since 2006, said Dan Kyllo, town board chair, when a resident compiled research on car-deer crashes and other deer- related issues.
"What we found out through the DNR is that they claim that a healthy population of deer is seven to 10 deer per square mile," Kyllo said. "In counts by hunters, we were approaching 30 deer per square mile."
The numbers appear to have declined a good deal with Urban Deer Management's annual response to residents' requests, Kyllo said. He said he now sees fewer deer and less frequently than the two dozen or so that used to cross his back yard every night.
"We haven't had nearly as many complaints about the deer eating people's bushes to the ground," Kyllo said. "We haven't had nearly as many car-deer accidents."
Susan Agrimson, the town clerk, said the hunters had taken two deer off her property in recent years. She said she's had three cars damaged in collisions with deer, including a van that needed $7,000 in repairs last year. "It's a big issue out there, it's a safety issue," she said.
Several factors have contributed to the booming numbers of deer in West Lakeland Township, which is bordered on the west by Lake Elmo, on the south by Interstate 94, to the north by Baytown Township and to the east by the St. Croix River.
Among the likely causes were mild winters leading up to 2006 and a reported rise in multiple deer births, Kyllo said.
"If you don't continually hunt the deer, you have a problem," Kyllo said. "They run pretty freely around the township."
The township's rural character, with minimum lot sizes of 2.5 acres, plenty of food in cornfields and residents' gardens and wooded areas for bedding down, also played a role, Kyllo said.
A township ordinance barring the use of firearms and bowhunting within 500 feet of a building limited deer hunting opportunities, Kyllo said. The board has since eased the ordinance to allow bowhunting within 200 feet of buildings.
Urban Deer Management's Matt Reischl estimated that the organization has removed 130 deer from West Lakeland Township over the years.
"It's definitely made a difference," Reischl said. "There are far less deer now than we first started. Most people want [the numbers] reduced, there's just so many deer out there."