Deer find life at Salt Lake City Cemetery
SALT LAKE CITY — About a dozen deer began to gather by a plot of tombstones at the Salt Lake City Cemetery as the cobalt sky above slowly faded to black on a mild March evening.
Some of the deer are nibbling on the graveyard grass, while others are resting nearby and even more roam around the foothills a few hundred feet away. It’s a scene that has played out on a regular basis this winter as the herd seeks refuge from its snow-covered natural habitat.
It’s not terribly unusual. Mule deer often find a home here at the cemetery, especially this time of the year, says Keith Van Otten, the cemetery sexton. The cemetery, which is the largest owned by a municipality in the country, offers 122 acres of sprawling open space along with an arboretum as a part of the city’s urban forest.
So why is it that deer escape to places like the Salt Lake City Cemetery? It primarily has to do with its shrubby food sources and the area’s tranquil setting. Many residents near the urban-wildland interfaces have also found deer in their yards this winter because of the same reasons.
“It’s the easiest-available forage,” Lamb says. “At all times during the winter, they’re trying to spend the least amount of energy as possible, so if there’s more easily available, palatable forage to them in the foothills (and valleys), that’s what they’re going to go for.”
But unlike private gardens, cemetery staff members actively seek wildlife by keeping the space as natural as possible. They regularly maintain the land and plant trees so it can serve as a quaint space for the living to enjoy as they come to pay respects to lost loved ones or simply walk around.
Van Otten notes that staff members select certain trees that benefit the cherished critters who visit. So while deer aren’t the primary operational focus, the cemetery has essentially turned into the perfect sanctuary this winter.
“It’s just a quiet place for them and it’s where they hang out,” he adds.