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Deer Deaths Lead to Ban on Spiked Fences

Cities outlaw sharp points on wrought-iron barriers that were erected to protect landscaping after some animals are impaled.

November 08, 2005|Wendy Thermos | Times Staff Writer

On steep, winding slopes of the San Gabriel Mountains, wispy deer trails weave through dense chaparral and lead down to tasty ornamental landscaping, where the animals are increasingly blundering into a fatal danger: spiked wrought-iron fences.

And some foothill residents are butting heads over what to do about the gruesome result.

Five cities adjoining the San Gabriels have recently banned new spike-topped fences in areas where deer tend to wander. Two of them, Duarte and Bradbury, are debating whether to tighten their laws by ordering homeowners to remove spikes on existing fences or retrofit them with flat tops.

"I call it the Bambi rule," Bradbury Mayor Beatrice LaPisto-Kirtley said. "We've got to protect wildlife."

In neighboring Duarte, where the City Council will decide today whether to impose a retroactive ban, at least 219 homeowners would be forced to spend $50 to thousands of dollars to comply.

The proposed law faces resistance from residents such as Delmer Hinton, who leaned on his cane in the front doorway of his Rim Drive home last week and shook his head.

"We put this up originally to protect our vegetation against deer," said the retired nurseryman, pointing to the 6-foot-high pronged enclosure around his park-like frontyard. "Now it protects against bears as much as anything."

Besides, he said, "I like the looks of it."

Before his fence went up 15 years ago, deer would steal up to his three dozen citrus trees and strip them bare.

"I think they'd eat everything here," he said, adding that he has never seen any deer try to leap the wrought-iron barrier to eat the azaleas, nandina and camellias thriving in his yard.

Small herds of deer are often seen wandering through Duarte Mesa, Hinton's neighborhood of custom homes on large lots located next to the Angeles National Forest. One morning last week, Maura Wilkins counted eight milling near her house on the broad plateau with sweeping views of the San Gabriel Valley.

She has been phoning everyone she can think of to support a broader ban on the spikes. Twice in the last two years, she has been appalled by the sight of bleeding deer hanging from neighbors' pronged fences.

"The first time it was a doe and she was kicking and struggling," Wilkins said. "The spike went through her pelvic area and out her back about 5 inches."

A crowd of people gathered helplessly while someone called animal control. "I left, because there was no way it could be saved."

The second time, the deer was already dead. "He was crucified, upside-down. That's how it looked. It was really ugly," she said. "I know if it happened on my property, that fence would come down."

The issue has generated unusual dissension in the 22,000-resident town that Duarte Mayor Margaret Finlay calls "the Mayberry of Los Angeles County," where the biggest controversies are over traffic generated by development.

Long known after World War II as a stable and attractive place to buy starter homes, Duarte's subdivisions have crept upward on terraced slopes with increasingly luxurious housing in the last 20 years. North Duarte homes cost $700,000 and more.

But there's been a price tag on progress, said Finlay, who proposed the new ordinance. "People are building more fences. The deer don't have access to the canyons that they used to. A car will frighten a deer, and it will try to leap over the fences," she said.

Advocates of a ban admit that deer impalements are infrequent. Finlay, a Mesa resident, has seen three in her neighborhood in three years, but said one is enough: "Once you see it, it will stay with you for a long time to see an animal writhing in pain."

She replaced her own spiked fence 18 months ago with a flat-topped version.

There have been at least four impalements in the last two years in Duarte and Bradbury, according to the city of Duarte. Sierra Madre and Glendale have reported a total of nine impalements in the last three years.

In the last five years, Duarte, Bradbury, Monrovia, Arcadia and Sierra Madre have outlawed new spike-topped fences. "We've had very, very few incidents where an animal has been impaled, but we do have a very environmentally sensitive, activist perspective among our residents," Monrovia City Manager Scott Ochoa said.

Bradbury, a town of 950 residents in mostly estate homes, is also weighing what to do about existing fences, but only six homeowners would be affected by a retroactive law. LaPisto-Kirtley hopes community pressure and voluntary compliance will eliminate the need to pass a law.

Duarte's proposed ordinance faced strong opposition in September before the city Planning Commission, which recommended 4 to 1 against its adoption.

Residents and commissioners cited the costs, which contractors estimated at $3 per linear foot to cut off spear-like tops and $10 per linear foot to weld a bar across them.

To blunt opposition, Finlay said she would be willing to forgo passing a law, at least temporarily, to see whether voluntary compliance would work.

Julie Davey, a 25-year resident who does not have a spiked fence, wants the danger eliminated but is among those worried about the price tag.

She and others say it's not practical for the city to force citizens to pick up the cost without offering low-interest loans or other financial help.

But, she added, if more deer die, "it will become more of an issue. We have a fairly large herd of deer that roam around. They're in our yard all the time. They're pets, really."

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