In an effort to help the economy and tourism as it relates to hunting in Sutton County, Sonora Economic Development Corporation (SEDC) Executive Director David Smith is seeking grant funds from the City of Sonora.

During their regular meeting Monday, October 21, 2019, City Council members held a public hearing and first reading of a resolution regarding a SEDC Agriculture Project, in the amount of $40,000, for testing, capture and transport of White-tailed deer from Texas urban areas to Sutton County areas affected by anthrax.

In his opening comments David Smith said, he thinks the project will aide in promoting tourism and hunting in Sutton County.

When asked by Council Member Lionel Cervantez how the project will benefit the City of Sonora and its residents, Smith said, “Because it will get us back to having deer here for the hunters, faster. And the hunting business industry is a substantial part of the economy of this county.”

“I also want to point out that this is the only grant that SEDC has ever done to benefit agriculture in Sutton County,” Smith added.

Although there was little input from visitors, the project proposal drew concerns from city council members about the appropriateness and fairness of the project to Sonora residents.

Additionally, the use of city sales tax revenue to fund the project and the decision-making process is of concern as well.

“I see all kinds of problems with this,” Mayor Wanda Shurley said. “First of all, is it legal to transfer deer from one county to another? And, where will the deer be released? There is no way this could be done fairly or equitably. You’re asking us to pay for deer for people’s ranches. You’re asking the city to use sales tax for some ranchers. That is not going to benefit the city at all. It’s going to benefit that rancher. You understand the city has to be equal. We can’t show favoritism to anybody. We can’t do for one and not the other. That is just part of city government.”

Likewise, Council Member Todd Munn said the council must consider that a loss is a loss. The council must govern fairly and the effort to replenish deer on one property but not all properties in the county is not fair.

“A survey will show a greater loss of deer on a large ranch compared to a small ranch,” Munn said. “Yet, the devastation to landowners is the same. It is a loss.”

Information provided by Mary Humphrey, a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) Wildlife Biologist for Sutton County, will be used in the consideration of where the deer will be deposited in the county, according to Smith.

Specifically, data collected from surveys conducted by Humphrey identifying areas most devastated from the loss of White-tailed deer due to anthrax. Thus, what properties are in most need of benefitting from the project.

Ultimately, the SEDC will choose where the deer are released, according to Smith.

Humphrey confirmed that while TPWD does allow for trapping and transporting of White-tailed deer through a permit program, they have not done so in some time. Deer released as part of the permit program belong to everyone in the state of Texas, she added.

Similarly, deer trapped in other areas and released in Sutton County would belong to Sutton County – not individual land owners.

Humphrey also said she believes the project would help with efforts to replenish White-tailed deer in Sutton County.

Almost half of Sutton County was affected by the loss of White-tailed deer due to anthrax this past summer, according to Humphrey. Areas experienced losses of White-tailed deer ranging from 50 percent to as much as 90 percent as well as livestock, according to Humphrey.

Further, Humphrey said it could take several years to recover. Moreover, the outcome is dependent upon several factors such as severity of loss, location of property and how the animals fair. However, the survival rate of trap and release of White-tailed deer is high. Possibly as much as 90 percent, according to Humphrey.

“With the kind of loss that we had there’s a possibility the replenishment of the White-tailed deer population could take 3-5 years,” Humphrey said. “Not every property was affected the same. The overall loss is significant.”

Smith has identified a trapper in the San Antonio area and has contacted him regarding testing, trapping and transporting 100 White-tailed deer, mostly pregnant does, to Sutton County for an amount not to exceed $40,000.

Landowners must give consent before deer from other areas can be released on property in Sutton County.

Research on the subject shows that catch and release is effective in replenishing deer populations, according to Smith. As well, over a three-year period it will make a substantial impact over the number of deer that are here.

“The top five properties will be given priority,” Smith said. “Who’s been hurt the most.”

The next public hearing and second reading of the request for grant money to fund the project as proposed by Smith is set for Monday, November 18, 2019.

If the council approves the request for grant funds, so that the SEDC may move forward with the project, the release of deer would happen as soon as February to March, according to Smith.

A delay in the approval of the resolution would mean not meeting the January 1 deadline to submit results of testing for consideration by TPWD. As well, it would delay placement of deer in Sutton County.