When deer damage orchards, what does Utah owe the fruit growers?


It’s hard to hate mule deer appearing in your yard this time of year, but the patience of some fruit growers in Box Elder County is running low.

The deer regularly roam the orchards around Perry at night and raze the young apricots, nectarines and peaches, according to the complaint filed in Utah. Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR).

Deer fencing costs are prohibitive and hunting for big game at night is illegal, so gardeners are left with few options but to claim compensation from the state. The problem pits two beloved Utah values, the big game and fruit growth, against each other.

Todd Eskelsen, Jordan Riley and other Perry fruit producers hope to find a way for the two to live in harmony, but in the meantime, it’s unlikely to see new trees reaching maturity in the country. deer.

Located along a canal that drains water from Pineview Reservoir, Perry’s orchards lie beneath DWR’s Brigham Face Wildlife Management Area, which provides summer habitat for deer to the north. Wasatch Mountains. When the animals migrate to lower ground in the fall, they often pass through orchards.

“I’m right on the edge between wildlife and agriculture,” says Eskelsen, a new horticulturalist from Maryland who is turning his father’s longtime property in Perry into a business. “We talked to DWR about how we can continue to farm and co-exist with deer.”

His father’s 17 acres have 125 mature apricot trees, but in the past few years, Eskelsen has planted 3,000 saplings that are at risk.

“The deer gnaw the young shoots on all the trees, but they, especially on the younger trees, have a little bit of vitality, using them for raking,” says Eskelsen. “And in doing so, you can break them right at the junction.”

With residential growth taking up nearby vacant land, deer are increasingly being pushed into gardens, said Riley, who grows cherries, peaches and other fruits on 180 acres near Eskelsen. fruit trees.

“Currency is the worst. They will come in and scratch those antlers to get the feeling back. In one night, they could take out dozens of guys if they stayed there,” Riley said. “All the deer will come and eat the shoots and the shoots. When they do that, especially in winter, they kill the plant and that affects its yield. We can live with that. That is when you kill the whole tree, it becomes a very expensive proposition.”

Eskelsen is currently in dispute with DWR over how he should be compensated, Wildlife Department will act as arbitrator at Tuesday’s meeting. The wildlife agency is willing to pay only the cost of replacing his damaged trees; Eskelsen insists he deserves compensation for future harvests he won’t see, according to his profile.

DWR considers Eskelsen’s method “speculative and unreliable” and is asking the Wildlife Commission to dismiss it.

“The proposed predictive model uses variables that are not authorized by law and exceed the 1-year damage calculation period established in the rule,” the agency wrote in its filing.

A hearing officer sided with Eskelsen in a ruling that could cost the state much more if it were upheld. Because wildlife belongs to the people of Utah, taxpayers end up suffering damage to the fallen big game fence, the alfalfa they eat, and other damages.

DWR takes many steps to reduce such damage, according to agency spokeswoman Faith Jolley.

“When wildlife causes damage to crops and other properties, the department’s eviction program helps address those issues,” she said. “We work with agricultural producers to develop a variety of options to reduce losses.”

Killing and confining large animals is a last resort, but the agency issues “deportation” permits that allow farmers and ranchers to shoot deer out of season. In Perry’s case, such permits were given to Eskelsen and his neighbors, but they were only able to kill a single deer last year.

Unlike coyotes that are shot indiscriminately in Utah, mule deer are a valuable and widely protected wildlife. Under pressure from predators, poaching, drought, habitat loss, and collisions with motor vehicles, deer populations in Utah remain below what wildlife officials believe is optimal . Accordingly, DWR is reluctant to kill problem deer. And so are gardeners.

“I don’t want to kill all the deer in any way,” Eskelsen said. “I realize I’m going to have some deer losses and I’m happy to be working with [DWR] Deer must not be taken out to collect compensation for damage and replant trees. But it’s just too much. What the set paid is much lower than the value of the tree. “

Last year, the deer destroyed 141 apricot trees, 88 thermos plants and 31 nectarines in the Eskelsen garden, according to his records. DWR put out $4,187.61, reflecting the cost of replanting lost trees. Using a model that calculates future fruit loss, Eskelsen calculated his loss to be close to $14,000.

“The problem is when you have a damaged tree, you have to place an order for an orchard, and chances are they already have an order for their existing quantity,” says Eskelsen. “They can take your order and transplant the tree for next year, so it can take two and maybe three years to get a replacement.”

It takes up to seven years for a new tree to bear fruit, so replacing it can delay yields by many years. It is money lost to growers that is not covered by DWR.

“We have more trees this spring, and I will be able to plant more,” says Eskelsen. “But in the meantime, there is more damage. We have deer in the garden again. Now they have fallen in recent snowfalls. “

To successfully contain the deer, it will have to surround the 17-acre site. DWR suggested building a fence, but it wasn’t enough to make much of a difference, according to Eskelsen.

He and other Perry gardeners have permits to kill a limited number of deer, but they can only hunt with archery equipment and only during the day. And deer come only at night. When deer damage orchards, what does Utah owe the fruit growers?

Yasmin Harisha

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