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Deer caught in middle of Pasco County fences

A gap between fencing on land owned by Pinellas County and a private ranch has injured animals.

By JAMES THORNER

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 13, 2000


LAND O'LAKES -- Not long after sunrise last Wednesday in north-central Pasco County, two deer loped between two fences that were spaced about a foot apart, one fence knotted with barbed wire.

The deer instinctively tried to leap free. But each lunge drove the animals into steel barbs that tore fur and flesh.

After a minute, blood from more than a dozen wounds streamed down their heads and torsos.

The animals found themselves stuck not only between two fences, but also between two rival landowners: the Barthle brothers, owners of the 8,000-acre Barthle Brothers Ranch, and Pinellas County, owners of 12,000 acres next to the Barthles' property, north of State Road 52 and east of U.S. 41.

Earlier this year, Pinellas, defending its multimillion-dollar timber and pine straw business against rooting wild hogs, staked about three miles of grid-patterned fence a foot away from the Barthle's barbed-wire fence.

Deer that once cleared the Barthle's barbed wire now become trapped in the gap between the parallel fences, usually with bloody results.

Earlier this spring, the family discovered a buck twitching in its death throes, its broken leg snagged in the double fencing.

"Pinellas created this problem," said ranch co-owner Mark Barthle. "You are seeing the outcome."

Pinellas utilities director Pick Talley said the wild hog infestation -- more than 200 hogs were bagged on the property last year -- threatened the vitality of the agribusiness in Pasco.

Some hogs sneak onto the Pinellas land, which includes the 8,000-acre Cross Bar Wellfield, from the neighboring 4G Ranch. Owner William Phillips keeps the ranch as a hunting preserve.

The Barthle fence was great for keeping out cattle but failed to stop the hogs, Talley said. Although he expressed regrets for the maimed deer, Talley said palmetto undergrowth hindered Pinellas from stringing its fence closer to the Barthles'.

The pine straw operation, dried needles raked from the forest floor and sold as mulch, is expected to yield Pinellas more than $2-million during the next five years. Pasco timber is even more lucrative, potentially earning Pinellas as much as $20-million in the next 20 years.

"They want clean needles and nothing else. No sticks, dirt, mud, anything. They want pristine, clean needles when they rake them," Talley said. "We've got to keep the hogs out."

Bad blood is nothing new between the Barthles and Pinellas. But until now, complaints have centered mostly on water.

The Barthles insist pumping from the Cross Bar Wellfield, which supplies Pinellas with water, has sucked dry the ranch's 250-acre Big Fish Lake.

What makes it more bitter for the Barthles is that 4,400 acres of the Pinellas tract, the former Al Bar ranch, belonged until 1989 to Barthle cousins.

"For 60 years we used ponds and lakes to water our cattle," Barthle said. "Now we have to supply our needs."

Talley pointed out that the creation of Tampa Bay Water, the regional water agency, yanked the pumping issue from Pinellas' hands.

As for the fence, Talley said Pinellas will "take a look at" stringing wire between the two fences to close the gap. But Pinellas won't act without the Barthles' cooperation.

Talley questioned the family's motives for wanting to save deer. The Barthles lease hunting rights to harvest some of the estimated 350 deer that range on the ranch. Pinellas bans most hunting on its 12,000 acres.

"They want better deer so they can shoot them," Talley said.

Randy Barthle, another ranching brother, said that attitude is typical of Pinellas.

"So it's okay for deer to get caught in the fence and die over a day since we'll shoot them anyway?" Randy Barthle said. "Their attitude speaks for itself."

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