SOKD Community Meeting Synopsis 7/10/23


Why this meeting?

“Save Our Key Deer” (SOKD) is a non-profit organization established in 2016 to aid efforts to protect the Key Deer from the screw-worm epidemic and subsequently from Hurricane Irma devastation of the Keys in 2017. Since then, SOKD has worked extensively to support the continued existence and well-being of this unique deer subspecies.

Since SOKD’s establishment, several issues have been raised by Keys residents about management of this Federally Endangered Species. SOKD gets many inquires daily. Yet SOKD is not legally able to act on most of them.

This Community Meeting was a first-effort in the near-past to have Keys residents, and Federal and State agencies address the most impeding issues regarding the Key Deer.

Three topics were discussed. SOKD presented the background and current situation of each topic via a Powerpoint presentation, which was followed by a 30 minute open discussion:

1) What are the existing protocols and capabilities for responding to an injured or ill deer. What kind of intervention or aid do residents expect vs. what can actually be done and why? What could be done in the future to improve the existing conditions?

2) The concept for a local sanctuary for recovering and unreleasable Key deer has circulated for a long time. Also, the local fostering of orphaned fawns (which has been done in the past but is not done presently) is a frequently raised issue. Comments on the feasibility of both are sought from both residents and involved agencies.

3) Vehicle strikes are the prime cause of Key deer mortality. Unfortunately, many struck deer do not die quickly, resulting in unnecessary human-caused suffering and/or permanent major injury. In the past, SOKD has worked with MCSO on several occasions to implement actions to decrease speeding in Key deer habitat. Recently, several new ideas have been proposed, and were discussed.

SOKD invited, in addition to the general public, federal, state and local agencies to participate:

US Fish and Wildlife Service/Key Deer Refuge: was represented by Chris Eggleston, Greg Boling

US Fish and Wildlife Service/Ecological Services (USFW/ES): was represented by Kevin Kalasz, Nicki Colangelo

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC): was represented by Captain David Dipre

Monroe County Sherriff’s Office (MCSO): was represented by Sheriff Ramsey, Lt. Quintero, Sgt. Blantun, Sgt. Ladd

Florida Dept. of Transportation (FDOT): was represented by Anthony Sabbag Monroe County Dept. of Engineering: was not represented

1) What are the existing protocols and capabilities for responding to an injured or ill deer.

It was agreed that existing capabilities to aid a Key deer in distress are minimal, and are far below capabilities and actions provided by the Refuge in the past. FWC pointed out that their response time to a “deer in distress” call on their hot-line is severely affected by the presently low (by historical standard) number of field officers available, necessitating in some cases to mobilize an officer from as far away as Key Largo to respond to a Big Pine Key call. A suggestion was made for the public to lobby government (e.g. Congressman Carlos Gimenez) to increase the number of field officers, with the Key deer issues being a “specialized cause” motivator. FWC also noted that the present hot-line system is a general system for various reporting issues. The dispatch center is located in West Palm Beach and is manned by staff that likely knows nothing about Key deer. Therefore, the caller should provide as much detail as possible about the deer situation they are calling about so that the dispatcher can understand the nature of the emergency and can accurately relay the situation to an available field officer for response. In the past, MCSO officers did not euthanize gravely injured deer, so an FWC or Refuge officer had to be summoned. MCSO is presently available to euthanize a deer if needed, and a contact number was provided to meeting participants as a back-up to FWC.

A resident pointed out that the Save-A-Turtle organization has specifically trained volunteers that are allowed to handle sea turtles (also an “endangered species”) and provide rudimentary .aid if necessary. He suggested the same program should be established for the Key deer (at present no residents are allowed to even “touch” the deer). This suggestion will be advanced by SOKD. In a

later discussion FWC noted that they understand residents, for the most part, mean well for the deer and FWC is not looking to prosecute someone for simple actions like pulling off a rope or Christmas tree lights (most recent example) off a deer’s antlers. For prosecution FWC assesses if “gross negligence or criminal intent” was part of the case. Administering antibiotics or other drugs by a non-qualified person is an example of potential gross negligence. USFW/ES pointed out that one problem they have encountered multiple times in the past is that people chase a deer as part of trying to take an object off it, which ends-up making it skittish and thus much more difficult to capture by their personnel.

SOKD noted that at present, with no rehab facility permitted and available, injury cases such as broken legs are essentially non-responsive, short of euthanasia.

2) Establishment of a local sanctuary for recovering and unreleasable Key deer, and local fostering of orphaned fawns for subsequent release.

Although they were available in the past, no Key deer rehab or foster care facilities presently exist in the Keys (the Sheriff Zoo in Key West holds permits for non-releasable deer but does not presently use them for long-term care). SOKD presented multiple examples of sanctuary facilities for other animals (e.g. wolves and bears) in the USA, as well as deer, including scientific papers on the feasibility and success of releasing fostered deer fawns back into the wild. SOKD also noted that in the Keys the “Turtle Hospital” successfully treats and rehabs sea turtles and keeps unreleasable turtles as a tourist attraction under permits obtained in the 1980s.

Suggested potential long-term sanctuary sites include the former prison property on Big Pine Key, Pigeon Key off the 7-Mile Bridge, and Crown Point in Marathon. A resident of Big Pine Key presently holds a small animal rehab permit and is actively rehabbing animals, however, she is presently not allowed to keep adult or fawn Key deer. SOKD will seek to obtain permits that would once again allow the rehabbing and fostering of Key deer. FWC expressed strong interest in aiding and facilitating the permitting process.

3) How to reduce vehicle strike-caused Key deer mortality.

Collision with vehicles is by far the most prevalent cause of Key deer mortality and injury. Speeding is believed to be a major factor. In the past, SOKD has worked with MCSO to set up extra speed trap shifts and deploy decoy police cars as a deterrent. SOKD presented several additional ideas for slowing down motorists. Using a deer kill location map that was part of SOKD’s presentation, MCSO pointed out that while many collisions occur on US-1, just as many collisions occur on back roads, especially Key Deer Blvd. and Wilder Rd. These were likely caused by local residents, not tourists, so the problem is widespread.

Based on residents’ comments SOKD suggested that if residents note a particular speeding problem area and time (e.g. racing on No Name Key at night), they relay that information to MCSO for potential scheduling of extra patrols or speed traps. MCSO was supportive of that idea.

SOKD proposed two additional speed calming ideas: transverse rumble strips on US-1 and stationary radar signs on US-1 and Key Deer Blvd. and Wilder Rd. MCSO pointed out that approval and installation of any new devices on US-1 will have to be obtained from FDOT, while devices on the side roads will need approval from the County engineering dept. As the first step, data that would help pinpointing the best locations should be compiled, and SOKD will do that. MCSO offered assistance in going through the permitting process with both agencies. MCSO also offered to put in use temporary mobile light signs upon request, that can be put into the field during times when the deer are most vulnerable, e.g. fawning season and the rut.

SOKD also proposed a bill that would double traffic fines in endangered species zones, same as is presently done in construction and school zones. This idea was recently presented by a young SOKD volunteer to an ex-congressman as part of a school project and received his initial support. The bill is not Key deer specific, rather it would include other endangered species in Florida such as the Florida Panther that faces similar problems with vehicle strike mortalities. SOKD will work with the volunteer and the ex-congressman to further the bill proposal process.

%d bloggers like this: