The deer of Rosehill

Minot’s Rosehill Cemetery continues to host plenty of visitors. They are not always those visiting the final resting place of their loved ones, but rather the white-tailed deer that invade the well-manicured cemetery on a regular basis.

Last fall, nearby residents counted as many as 37 deer at a time on cemetery grounds. The deer ranged from large bucks to does to fawns. Today, the number of deer seen regularly at Rosehill is somewhat fewer. Recently, 21 deer were counted at the cemetery in a single evening.

“I’ve been watching them for about three years,” said Joyce Rostad, a nearby resident who often enjoys walks through the cemetery. “They have babies over there in the summer.”

Bonnie Ripplinger is the superintendent of Rosehill. She’s well aware of the presence of deer on cemetery grounds and agrees the population appears to have dwindled from what it was a year or so ago.

“I don’t know if there’s more this year than before,” said Ripplinger. “We haven’t been seeing very many at all. If we feel like there’s an issue we’d do something about it. We don’t feed the deer.”

Even without a gift of food, the deer have apparently found the cemetery grasses to their liking. They’ll feed on trees and flowers too, but that has never been the biggest concern of nearby residents like Rostad. She considers the number of deer to be a safety issue and urges people to be cautious around the deer herd.

“They’ll chase whatever moves. They’ll come after you,” claimed Rostad. “One doe is mean. It’s not safe over there. I’m concerned for the safety of people and there’s a lot of traffic in that cemetery.”

Like others who see the deer, Rostad enjoys them – albeit from a safe distance. She’s learned to respect their territory and, because she often visits the cemetery, readily recognizes several of the deer and knows which ones that are best to avoid.

“One lady told us a buck was aggressive during the rutting season,” said Ripplinger. “You need to be cautious. If we had an issue where we really thought we needed to remove some, we’d go to Game and Fish and do things.”

There have been no reported instances of visitors to Rosehill having been injured or attacked by deer, even though many of the deer show very little fear of humans. In fact, some of the deer will approach people and vehicles, likely the result of the deer becoming accustomed to being fed by cemetery visitors. In those cases it may appear the deer are being aggressive when they are actually approaching individuals while seeking a handout.

However, when it comes to wild animals, precaution remains the most prudent course of action. Even though animal/human encounters are rare, trying to determine why a deer is approaching could lead to unintended consequences.

“Can they be dangerous? Absolutely,” said Greg Gullickson, North Dakota Game and Fish Department. “There’s a reason they are called wildlife. When deer might seem like they are getting closer, with any movement or even a voice, they are gone.”

Gullickson said the most danger deer pose to humans in North Dakota is usually deer/vehicle collisions. He also has advice for anyone who encounters wildlife in an urban setting.

“I discourage people from feeding wildlife. If deer get in a situation where there’s food, why not be there?” said Gullickson.

Tanya Tremblay, Minot Police animal control officer, also discourages feeding deer at Rosehill.

“I don’t recommend feeding them,” said Tremblay. “Just look at them from a distance. Don’t try to approach them or anything like that. Enjoy them from afar.”

One issue Tremblay has had involving the Rosehill deer is dogs running loose and chasing the deer, often separating does from fawns. Another issue is injured deer.

“People have a lot of concerns about that. We get a lot of calls about it,” said Tremblay. “If a deer runs away we can’t do anything about it except let nature take its course.”

Deer are occasionally struck by vehicles within the city, a likely source of a number of injured deer calls received by Tremblay. Sometimes deer will get hung up on neighborhood fences too. It’s all part of urban living for wildlife better suited to the country than the city.

The deer at Rosehill are believed to spend much of their days in coulees to the east of the cemetery, then make their way through residential areas to the cemetery where they have become commonplace. According to Tremblay, the deer are “part of the ecosystem there.”

During summer it is not uncommon to see deer wandering among the grave markers at Rosehill, even lying in the shade of trees, headstones or shrubs. Additional information and photographs of Rosehill’s deer herd can be found on Facebook at “The Deer of Rosehill.”