New law to change deer harvesting in S.C. starting in 2017 season (copy)

Debate has erupted among Woodside residents over how to handle an overpopulation of deer in the community.

Oh, deer.

Tensions are running high among residents in Woodside Plantation over how to handle issues with the local wildlife.

It has been estimated that around 600 deer are living in the gated community. A recent vote was held by the Woodside Plantation Property Owners Association (WPPOA) to determine how to handle the perceived overpopulation.

About two-thirds of residents – 1,330 votes – were in favor of harvesting the excess deer. According to an email sent out by the WPPOA, permits for deer herd culling will be sought by the association to thin out the population.

But some residents are not happy about it.

"The deer were here before we were," Woodside resident Bobby Osteen said. "They did not encroach on our territory, we encroached on theirs."

Osteen's main concern was the use of firearms in a neighborhood such as Woodside. He has lived in Woodside for 29 years.

"You’ve got families that live in the subdivision, you’ve got children, visitors, people playing golf on the golf courses," Osteen said. "When those rifles are shot, the bullet can travel for up to a mile. The POA info said these sharpshooters would use sound suppressed firearms and the deer would be killed using bullets that do not exit the body … The animal is dead before it hits the ground."

The WPPOA will need approval from the city of Aiken and the Department of Natural Resources before organizing a culling. 

"We’ve been working with the POA. They made us aware of it," said Aiken City Manager Stuart Bedenbaugh. "There is a city ordinance that prohibits the discharge of firearms in city limits. We are communicating with the POA and will continue to do so."

Osteen said he wondered if Woodside would still be a Southern Living community if "sharpshooters are brought in" to kill the local wildlife.

Some residents raised concerns over the wording of the ballot. According to Paula Blessing, the ballot only had two options: Kill the deer or do nothing at all.

"I wish I could have seen other ways it may have been handled," Blessing said. "I was just given a ballot to 'yes' or 'no.' There was no real conversation or a meeting of people. They’re going to kill over 200. That's a lot of deer."

Carol DiSibio, another longtime resident, had similar concerns.

"I don’t think humane alternatives were adequately explored, that the need has been appropriately justified, or all risks and liabilities have been adequately considered," DiSibio said.

Overpopulation of deer can cause several problems. Due to a lack of natural predators, deer populations are sometimes held in check by other means, such as herd culling. Typically consequences of overpopulation are the spread of disease, destruction of habitat of other wildlife, and increased contact with people.

Aiken City Councilman Ed Girardeau's district covers part of the community. He said overpopulations of deer can be a "nuisance" when they lose their fear of people or crowd roadways at night, but due to the city ordinance against discharging firearms, it could take time to figure out a solution.

"It’s definitely an issue that they’re having," Girardeau said. "I'm not yes or no on it all the way. I'd have to do more research into it first."

WPPOA President Mary Shultz and Aiken City Councilwoman Andrea Gregory, District 5, could not be reached for comment.

Kristina Rackley is a general assignment reporter with the Aiken Standard.