Bud Kennedy

They ‘invaded.’ They’re destroying yards. But this Texas town says they can stay

Herds of deer roaming this Azle neighborhood making friends and enemies

Deer have invaded a neighborhood in Azle near Eagle Mountain Lake. Some residents feed them and some residents, who say they tear up the lawns and leave droppings everywhere, just want them to go away.
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Deer have invaded a neighborhood in Azle near Eagle Mountain Lake. Some residents feed them and some residents, who say they tear up the lawns and leave droppings everywhere, just want them to go away.

Chainsaws and bulldozers are bringing a population boom to this wooded lakeside town west of Fort Worth, and not all the newcomers are welcome.

Some ate up $1,000 in landscaping. Others crashed through doors or windows.

Once-friendly neighbors now bicker and swap insults.

All over whether to feed or get rid of hundreds of deer.

Azle’s lakefront location and thick woods make it a deer boomtown, just when new home construction is pushing herds into residential backyards.

Azle Mayor Alan Brundrett sides with the deer.

“That’s one of the charms of Azle — we still have wildlife and open spaces,” he said.

Roger Cokenour and his wife, Laura, feed deer on North Ash Avenue, to some neighbors’ frustration.

“People flip us off,” he said.

“But other people bring us feed or money.”

Jo Sisk, 89, said she and her husband, Virgil, 95, can count 40 or more deer sometimes from their yard on Spinnaker Lane.

“There have got to be more deer in Azle than anywhere else,” she said.

“I just don’t care for deer anymore.”

Residents and city officials say deer have always roamed Azle, but a recent homebuilding spree wiped out their habitat.

The recent drought pushed them into heavily watered and landscaped Oak Harbor Estates, where some residents fed them deer corn while others defended their lawns.

Resident Janie Rector asked City Council last month to ban deer feeding. The topic is on the council agenda Tuesday, but city administrators plan no change.

“They have kind of invaded us,” Rector said.

“People think they’re cute and feed them. But at this rate they’ll be sleeping in our yards soon. They’re already out here all day grazing like cattle.”

Landscaper Dustin Ketron of Azle-based Ketron Landscaping said he lost $800 worth of Texas sage and Mexican heather.

“It was gone within four days,” he said.

“I thought it was gophers, it went so fast. But we stayed out there one night. We were amazed how many deer.”

Rector said deer snacked away on her dwarf and tall pittosporum: “The tall ones now look like trees.”

They love Asiatic jasmine and even ate some nandina, she said.

The Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TP&WD) governs all wildlife, including deer. Some cities trap and relocate deer, or donate meat to charity after health tests, said Alan Cain, the Austin-based director of the white-tailed deer program.

Deer are mostly seen near Eagle Mountain Lake, Lake Worth, Grapevine Lake or Lake Weatherford, according to TP&WD records, although one was reported in 2015 on blufftop Sunset Terrace near downtown Fort Worth.

“A lot of people like to see deer, and some don’t,” Cain said.

“When there’s development, more deer shift into smaller areas. … There’s a perception the population is growing.”

Azle City Manager Tom Muir said he and Police Chief Rick Pippins will not recommend the city ban deer feeding.

“We may educate citizens more that feeding is not good for the deer and not good for the community,” he said.

When he left City Hall about 7:30 Wednesday night, there were about 30 deer out back, he said.

“There’s deer everywhere out here, and they’re desperate for food and a place to live,” he said.

Azle, a city of about 12,000 people, has added 300 new homes in recent years with more subdivisions on the way.

The school district’s “B” grade in recent Texas Education Agency ratings was better than Fort Worth, Weatherford or Springtown, and far better than adjacent Lake Worth’s “D.”

“We’re seeing westward movement from Fort Worth and people coming because they like the rural feel, and the challenge is to keep that,” he said.

Cokenour said he polled an Azle Facebook group. Members supported feeding the deer by more than 10-1.

“If I stop feeding them,” he said, ”they’re still going to be here, but they’ll be eating your plants.”

But Tarrant Regional Water District board President Jack Stevens, an Azle resident, said deer have crashed through his church’s door and a friend’s patio door.

“People are just putting up 8-foot fences and walling off their yards,” Stevens said. “You can’t have shrubbery here anymore.”

Brundrett, the mayor, said most Azle residents enjoy seeing deer.

“It’s one of those charms that makes Azle great,” he said.

“Look at Facebook. A lot of the comments are like, ‘If you don’t like ‘em, move back to the city.’ ”

They’re more pets than pests.

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