Allerton temporarily changes hunting policy

Online Poster

By Caroline Kim

The University’s preparation for a deer hunt using bows and arrows at the University’s Robert Allerton Park and Conference Center has drawn fierce opposition from various organizations and community members. The hunt is scheduled to begin on Saturday and will last until Dec. 24.

The hunt is an exception to the no-hunting rule at the park, according to Richard Warner, a University professor of wildlife ecology. Allerton has prohibited hunting since its acquisition by the University in 1946. But in recent years, the exploding deer population at Allerton has caused environmental damage and safety risks, Warner said. Such damages include rubbing bark off of trees, eating native vegetation and running in front of cars.

The University has enlisted a group of 24 different hunters for every week until the end of the year to help to decrease the deer population, said David Schejbal, assistant vice chancellor and director of continuing education. Schejbal said the hunters were selected through a lottery and that background checks on each hunter were made. The area for the hunt will be closed to other recreational uses during that time, he said.

An annual study to count the deer population has been conducted by helicopter since 1981. Two decades ago, the white-tailed deer count was less than 200 for the park and its surrounding area. This year more than 700 deer were counted. Allerton’s fall 2004 newsletter indicated that the number of deer per square mile could increase by 50 percent by January 2005.

There are about 163 deer per square mile in the 1,500-acre park, according to an article written by Warner for “The Illinois Steward of the University’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences.”

    Sign up for our newsletter!

    “Research in the Midwest and elsewhere in North America indicate that densities of greater than 20 deer per square mile in natural areas such as Allerton have profound and long-term impacts on the native flora as well as the fauna that depend on this vegetation,” according to Warner’s article.

    University spokeswoman Robin Kaler said the hunt will be well supervised, and every hunter will be required to put their names on the arrows that they use. Also, the hunters will not be able to kill a buck unless they kill a doe first and take the doe to a checkpoint.

    Warner also said the hunters must follow detailed instructions and will be required to track the park’s deer population. Conservation police will also be accessible for those hunters who need help killing the deer.

    “The deer hunt is part of a research program to determine how we can best live with deer and preserve the natural areas of the park,” Schejbal said.

    Kaler said the University has tried other methods such as fencing and plant repellent, but both methods failed. Warner said fencing was impossible because Allerton is too large to be entirely fenced in. Besides bow hunting, other methods include sharpshooting and birth control. But Warner said communities like Iowa City have tried sharpshooting and found it to be extremely expensive.

    Warner also said birth control is not an option because it requires that the deer inhabit a completely enclosed area that is well penetrated by roads and fields.

    “In the absence of natural checks and balances, we have to intervene,” Warner said.

    A more severe concern, Kaler said, is the increase of reported car accidents involving deer.

    But some local residents like Pat Monti of Monticello, Ill., say they think the hunt is unnecessary. She said caution signs on the road would be more effective in preventing such accidents. She also thinks the University has exaggerated the problem. Monti lives a mile next to Allerton and said she has not seen as many deer as in the past years.

    But Kaler argues that the problem needs to be addressed.

    “It really does negatively affect the biodiversity when you have an animal that has gone significantly out of proportion,” Kaler said. “Nobody is doing this because they want to kill deer. It’s at a point where if we don’t do something it’s going to be almost impossible to really maintain and preserve the park.”

    Some community members also disagree with the hunt’s use of bows and arrows, saying sharpshooting with guns would be more effective and humane.

    Don Rolla, executive director of the Illinois Human Political Action Community and University alumnus, compared the bow hunt to electrocution and sharp shooting to lethal injection. While death by bow-hunting would be slow and painful, sharpshooting would be immediate and relatively painless.

    Lara Shanbhag, junior in veterinary medicine and member of Students for Improving the Lives of Animals (SILA), said the group is not in favor of the deer hunt and would like for the University to postpone the hunt for a year. She said SILA and other organizations are planning protests for Saturday.

    Champaign resident Debbie Skaggs said the deer should not have been permitted to get out of hand in the first place.

    “I’m willing to start a deer fund … to get money together to buy food for them and put birth control in the feed,” Skaggs said. “They shouldn’t try to play God. They shouldn’t make the decision to kill the deer.”

    87 percent of deer shot with arrows are recovered, and half of the remaining 13 percent are recovered by another hunter, according to a Minnesota study presented at the First National Bow Hunting Conference in 2001.

    Kaler said the archery method is safer for the people involved and has a smaller range.

    Schejbal also said the University wanted to provide an opportunity to work with the local community in solving the deer overpopulation.

    “The needs to reduce the deer herds, the biodiversity of the park, the strong support of the Monticello and Piatt community in working with us, the directives of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources – all of those things brought together clearly indicate that we need to pursue the bow hunt as one method of controlling the deer population,” Schejbal said.

    Schejbal said sharpshooting is commonly used in forest preserves in and around Chicago, but that excludes the community and is very expensive.

    Joe Bauer, a spokesman for the Illinois Department of Natural Resource, said bow hunting is the preferred method.

    “If an area is able to be hunted, it should be the main method for population control,” Bauer said.

    He said bow hunting is just as effective as other methods and much less expensive.

    But Rolla said he and other Monticello residents are not convinced that the University has exhausted its options.

    “Hunters are being brought in because (the University) wants to make the community happy,” Rolla said.

    He said he’s concerned that the deer hunt may become annual.

    “Allerton was given to the University to preserve as a natural area,” Rolla said. “Deer and plants are natural to that area … (The area) is surrounded by very good farmland. Once you kill deer off, deer from the other areas will come in.”

    Kathleen King, senior in environmental engineering, said people are torn as to what the best solution would be.

    “I understand that it’s a problem with the deer eating the plants, but I believe the deer hunt will not be a permanent solution,” King said.

    But Warner is the first to acknowledge that the deer hunt is not the solution, rather a small step in the right direction.

    “The small step this year is not designed to stop the growth,” Warner said. “We look at this as a long-term project in a research monitoring framework.”

    Schejbal said 25 deer will be killed through sharpshooting in January for research purposes such as collecting tissue samples and examining the health of the deer. He said the goal is to find a way to have a diverse ecosystem that includes deer and a variety of plants and animals.

    “I think we can help society with objective information about what tools that can be effective or non-effective with settings like these,” Warner said.

    Schejbal said he is not sure if the deer hunt will become an annual event. But the University will reevaluate the process and will know its effectiveness early next year.

    “I believe that (the deer hunt) is the best decision that the University can make,” Schejbal said. “We need to balance the research issues that we’re trying to learn.”