Like many areas across DFW, Azle is experiencing rapid growth. While new people move in, one part of the population is slowly being forced out - deer. With nowhere to go, some residents are welcoming them with open arms, but others want them gone. The disconnect is fueling new debate over how to manage them.
Deer have called Azle home for decades.
To Rick Stepp, they've felt like family for 20 years.
"I talk to them like dogs, like little dogs you know. They seem to like my voice,” said Stepp, a longtime Azle resident.
Lately, Stepp said he's noticed a change. He’s now going through feed at a much faster rate than this time last year. The corn he spent $25 on last Sunday is already gone.
"Four bags, 200 pounds and it would take them roughly about a week and a half to two weeks to go through it and now they're doing it in less than a week,” he said.
Across from his home, bulldozers now appear on what used to be farm land. They’re making way for new home construction. Two new schools have also been added to the area, gobbling up the natural habitat along with his money.
"It makes me feel sad. They’re pretty animals and they're getting choked out,” Stepp said.
With the change, there’s also been an increase in frustration from residents in nearby neighborhoods, like Oak Harbor. Azle City Manager, Tom Muir, has heard their complaints.
"They were just talking about how what a nuisance they are to property, that they were causing property damage,” he said.
From eating shrubs and flowers in manicured lawns, to concerns about run-ins with joggers and cars on nearby roadways, some residents said they’ve had enough. Muir said he understands based on his own experience.
"I'm sensitive to it, you get a little aggravated with it. I've had to deal with deer in my lawn before in a previous house and it is aggravating,” he said.
Muir said a vocal minority is so upset, they spoke out at a recent meeting, urging council members to take a look at city rules and consider a ban on feeding deer.
"Right now we're just in the fact finding mode,” Muir said.
But he knows new rules would bring new issues over enforcement and new heartbreak for longtime residents with feeders like Stepp.
"For the city council to say you can't feed them, we're trying to get them outta here, the biggest single question is where are they gonna go?” Stepp said.
Muir said he’s also sympathetic to the many people in Azle who love their interaction with wildlife.
“There's a lot of folks that like having the deer around and they like feeding the deer. I'm not necessarily looking to take that away from them. I'm not real sure what the solution is,” Muir said.
Because there's no easy fix, he's looking to other Texas communities, hoping to find one to serve as a model for either the animal feeding ordinance or how to control the deer population. Muir plans to bring it up for discussion at city council meeting in late August.