There are more deer than people in this fishing village, and for some, that’s a problem.
For years, residents have fed the deer, resulting in a permanent herd that doesn’t leave the village and has come to rely on humans for food.
And the deer population is growing.
“Right now I would say there is probably a deer for every citizen in that town,” Fire Chief John “Whitey” Thompson said. “That’s around 400 deer or so.”
Now, Willacy County Navigation District officials are considering a ban on deer feeding to discourage the deer that wander through the village. The proposed policy has received a mixed reception from residents.
Navigation District board member Tony Treviño said Wednesday the matter was discussed at a December meeting and he expects it to be on the January meeting agenda.
Some residents see the deer as a tourist attraction; others say they are a nuisance and maybe even dangerous.
Port Mansfield is unincorporated and falls solely under the jurisdiction of the navigation district, which has the authority to decide how to handle the deer population in the area of about 1,000 acres.
Port Mansfield Chamber of Commerce Manager Christine Simmons said the deer feeding ban is moving forward.
“They’re making the signs right now,” she said.
She said many people want the deer to stay because they are the town’s only tourist attraction, other than sport fishing.
Raul Flores agrees. He said Winter Texans and families with children come from as far away as Mission and McAllen to feed the deer, making the community “one big petting zoo,” which can improve the village’s economy.
“People bring their grandchildren out here,” Flores, the county engineer, said. “It’s a thrill.”
But others have complained that the deer have become accustomed to humans. They approach cars for food, and sometimes scratch cars’ paint with their hooves. One resident said the deer walk through her garden and munch the plants. Volunteer firefighters have said the deer are a traffic hazard.
Flores disputes claims that the deer pose a danger to motorists since the speed limit is low.
“It’s not a hazard like when there’s a big highway and people are going fast,” he said.
But Thompson said volunteer firefighters responding to fires have struck deer with their cars, often at night. So far, no motorists have been injured, but volunteers’ cars have been damaged and deer have been killed or seriously injured, he said.
And then there are deer ticks. Thompson said there have been “several cases” of Lyme disease and spotted tick fever.
Firefighters first contacted Texas Parks and Wildlife Department last summer to find out what the agency could do to help them, Randy Fugate, an agency wildlife biologist, said.
“We have permits that allow them to transfer or move deer, or also one that’s called a trap-and-process permit that’s utilized in some urban areas,” Fugate said.
But no decision was made for the Port Mansfield deer.
“Nothing definite was ever settled,” he said. “Basically Port Mansfield is not a town; it’s run by the navigation district.”
The popularity of the deer at Port Mansfield does make them a tourist attraction, Fugate said, calling the situation “an interesting phenomena,” and recalling that there were “deer issues at Port Mansfield” in the early 1970s.
TPWD is not pushing the issue of the large deer population, he said.
“There were no plans to go in there and do any kind of harvesting, or trying to get rid of the animals,” he said. “You can trap and remove the animals; that probably wouldn’t work either.
“You can take them out of there, but they have all that open ranch country around them and more would come in,” he said. “That wouldn’t alleviate the problem.”
Fugate said he was taken around the village when he attended the meeting last summer. He saw that residents put out food and water for deer, so there is no reason for deer to ever leave.
He said he was amazed at how many deer are present.
“There would be 10 or 15 deer in the shade of people’s houses,” he said. “I thought, ‘Whoa.’ … I agree that they’re neat to look at, but you can get too many.”
When deer are in rut, excited bucks and even does can be dangerous with their sharp hooves and horns, Fugate said.
He personally has a number of scars “that look like I was in a knife fight,” Fugate said.
When contacted in late December, Port Director Shane Cameron would not provide details of when the feeding ban could go into effect or if there would be penalties for violations of it.