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Deadly fencing criticized

Animal-rights activists, nature lovers and county commissioners join forces to adjust a fence that is blamed for killing and mutilating deer.

By JAMES THORNER

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 16, 2000


LAND O'LAKES -- A loose coalition of animal-rights activists, nature lovers and Pinellas County commissioners is pressing to readjust a fence blamed for killing and mutilating deer along the boundary of the Cross Bar Wellfield in Pasco County.

Pinellas, which owns 12,000 acres around the wellfield north of State Road 52, strung several miles of grid-patterned fence to separate its property from the neighboring 8,000-acre Barthle Brothers Ranch.

The resulting 1- to 2-foot gap between the Pinellas fence and the Barthles' barbed-wire fence has become a meat grinder for deer. Neighbors have discovered at least 10 deer killed and maimed on the steel barbs of the fences.

After seeing photos of one of the bloody animals published this week in the Times, Pinellas Commissioner Barbara Todd called on county staffers to propose a solution by Tuesday's meeting.

"I thought it was horrible that poor little thing got trapped between the fence," Todd said. "The commissioners all agreed we want them to take whatever measures are necessary to close off the area where the deer can get in."

Pinellas utilities director Pick Talley, whose department manages the wellfield property, said he approved the fence to protect the county's multimillion-dollar timber and pine-needle mulch business against wild hogs.

Talley said the hogs, 200 of which were trapped on Pinellas land last year, dirty fallen pine needles by rooting in the soil.

The new fence was just a further irritant for the Barthles, who have struggled with Pinellas for years over groundwater pumping. The Barthles lease hunting rights to harvest some of the 350 deer on their property and complained Pinellas' fence was tampering with nature.

An even angrier response came from local representatives of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. PETA member Louise Kahle dashed off an angry letter to Talley demanding deer no longer be "shredded" on the barbed wire.

"You've got commercial greed and you've got the hunters and you've got the animals suffering for profit," Kahle said Thursday. "Both sides need to reach a compromise to save the deer."

Other nature lovers also contributed to the pro-deer chorus. Eva Carey, a St. Petersburg retiree, said she burst into tears after seeing the animals suffering in the newspaper.

"I'm so incensed to think of those dear, sweet animals," Carey said. "To have them turned to shreds and die in agony."

Talley said most of the hogs are escaping onto Pinellas land from neighboring 4G Ranch, where owner William "Ted" Phillips runs a not-for-profit hunting preserve.

4G manager Ray Hall said if Talley were worried only about hogs, he should have erected a different fence: low enough for deer to clear but high enough to halt the hogs.

Hall said he found three bucks snagged in the parallel fences the past year. "They got their hind legs hung in the wire and hung upside down until they died," he said.

Even Kahle found herself leaning toward the hunters' side in the dispute.

"I hate hunting, but with hunting they're shot cleanly," she said. "To be literally caught like that is a bit vile."

Talley, who was out of town and unavailable for comment, has proposed stringing wire between the two fences to close the gap.

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