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For the week of December 10 - 16, 2003

News

Deer put down for November attacks

Animal raised by retired
Fish and Game officer


"I’m bitter right now. I’m real bitter, and I’m real disappointed in guys I’ve worked with for so many years."

— LEE FROST, Retired Fish and Game conservation officer


By GREG STAHL
Express Staff Writer

Ending a peculiar series of events, Idaho Department of Fish and Game officers on Thanksgiving Day euthanized a mule deer that had threatened several people in the Sun Valley area, including a man who was pursued for two miles on his bicycle.

Lee Frost, a retired Idaho Fish and Game conservation officer, poses with Putch, an orphan deer he raised at his Hailey home. Courtesy photo

What’s more, the deer—a 3-year-old orphan—was raised in Hailey by one of the department’s former employees, Lee Frost, a retired conservation officer. Frost was openly upset about the outcome of the situation.

"The thing that hurts me—well a lot of things—but they didn’t have to kill it," Frost said. "It had not hurt anybody. They knew whose deer it was when they went up there. It was the deer I’d raised. They could have anesthetized it.

"I’m bitter right now. I’m real bitter, and I’m real disappointed in guys I’ve worked with for so many years."

But Fish and Game officials said the deer posed a public safety hazard and had to be put down. Magic Valley Regional Director Dave Parish said he conferred with the department’s director, Steve Huffaker, before making the decision to kill the animal.

"Lee continued to feed it and nurse it, and, consequently, the deer continued to stay around his house," Parish said. "We informed Lee last year that euthanizing the deer was possible if we had any other incidences.

"Quite honestly, we couldn’t’ take any more chances."

Parish said a number of reports of people being attacked by deer surfaced this fall. All of the incidents are believed to have involved the deer Frost raised and called Putch.

Frost said he believes other deer were involved in some of those events. He also pointed out that Putch was under the influence of mating season-induced hormones this fall.

"This was not a rogue deer as the headlines wanted to say. It was a buck deer under the influence of testosterone, like every deer this time of year," he said. "It was a one month to five week phenomenon that happens each fall. I’m trying to be as objective as I can, under the circumstances, but he was a big part of my life."

The deer made headlines last month after chasing a man on a bicycle for more than two miles and, the very next morning, charging a man walking his dog.

On Thanksgiving day, Parish said that Fish and Game received a telephone call from a woman near Sun Valley who was being held captive in her home by a deer that would not get off her porch.

After anesthetizing the animal with a dart, officials gave the deer a lethal dose of drugs, Parish said.

"Because of the number of incidences we’ve had with this deer and the public safety factor, we made the decision to euthanize it," Parish said.

Parish said the deer’s carcass was disposed at a landfill. Though he declined to specify which landfill, Frost said he believes Putch was taken to a landfill in Carey.

"This does put us in an awkward position," Parish said. "However, I think our current policies make our direction clear in the future. It’s really a sad situation all around. As biologists, we don’t want to kill anything. The decision was not made lightly to kill this deer."

Parish pointed out that Fish and Game implemented a policy last year against rehabilitating orphaned deer.

Putch came into Frost’s care in August 2001 when he was discovered orphaned near Rupert. At the time, he was a newborn weighing 9 pounds, Frost said.

Every four hours, for 24 hours a day, "for a long time," Frost fed the fawn from a bottle.

"I was Mr. Mom, no question about it, to the point where when I would leave the pen, it would cry and cry and cry—a lot of separation anxiety—which is to be expected."

During the ensuing winter, Putch lived in an enclosure Frost built alongside his barn. He ate commercial rabbit food and prospered.

"I spent a lot of time with it. They’re cute little animals," Frost said. "It was a pretty positive thing, I think, for both it and me."

The following April, Frost turned the animal loose.

But the deer had a difficult time leaving and didn’t venture far from Frost’s home for most of the summer. In November 2002, however, the rut began, and Putch vanished for several weeks.

When he returned, his leg was broken, and Frost took the animal to veterinarian Randy Acker for repairs. By February, his leg had healed, and Frost released him to the wild again.

"He’d go away for two or three days, but he would always come back. I thought, this is up to him," Frost said. "Obviously, I had grown way attached, way attached."

This fall, Putch made it through a second hunting season, and the annual November mating season approached.

"The fifth of November was the last I ever saw him," Frost said. "A week goes by. I don’t see him. Two weeks. It gets to be Nov. 18, a Tuesday, when the bike incident occurs."

"Of course, everybody assumed that it was Putch, and I have to admit, I did, too, at first."

But Frost said Putch was fat and out of shape and could never have kept up with a biker for two miles. Also, one of the men who was attacked adamantly said the animal that attacked him was a doe, not a buck.

"I’ll tell you now, he was fat beyond your wildest imagination," Frost said. "He just jiggled when he walked. He was fat. We’d go hiking together near my house, and he couldn’t keep up with me.

"But it doesn’t make a difference. Everyone, including the Fish and Game department, assumed that every deer call involved Putch."

Parish stressed that the decision to kill the animal was not personal.

"I still have the utmost respect for Lee Frost," he said. "His heart is in the right place. But I know he does not agree with the decision that was made."


See related letters in Letters to Editor section of the printed edition of the December 10, 2003 Idaho Mountain Express.

 

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