Deer hunt still controversial

By Caroline Kim

By Caroline Kim

Staff writer

The bow-and-arrow deer hunt continues to curb deer overpopulation at the University’s Robert Allerton Park and Conference Center, yet it also continues to draw opposition from various organizations and community members as the hunt nears its close on Christmas Eve.

Richard Warner, University professor of wildlife ecology, said the deer hunt that began on Oct. 30 is an exception to the no-hunting rule that has been in effect at the park since its acquisition in 1946.

Warner said the dramatic increase in the deer population has caused environmental damage and safety risks such as deer eating native vegetation and running in front of cars.

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

Annual deer population counts by helicopter have shown the total at less than 200 for the park and its surrounding area two decades ago, but now there are more than 700 deer in the area.

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

Warner’s article points out that having more than 20 deer per square mile can have profound and long-term effects on the native flora and fauna.

Various community members and organizations protested against the deer hunt and met with University officials to stop the hunt.

Harriet Weatherford, interim director of the Champaign Humane Society, said she has been opposed to the deer hunt from the beginning. She requested documentation about the University’s decision to implement the deer hunt through the Freedom of Information Act.

University spokeswoman Robin Kaler said the University tried fencing off the area and spraying plant repellent, both of which failed. Other methods include sharp shooting and birth control, but Warner said sharpshooting was too expensive. He also said birth control is not feasible because the deer need to be in an enclosed area that has many roads and fields to provide access to the deer.

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

Schejbal said this deer hunt was a University effort to provide an opportunity to work with the community in solving the deer overpopulation. He said the University has enlisted a different group of 24 hunters each week to help decrease the deer population. The hunting area also has been closed to other recreational uses during that time.

Sixty deer have been harvested as of Dec. 7, according to Jim Gortner, conference coordinator and interim director of operations at Allerton. Of those, Gortner said 11 were bucks. Hunters were only allowed to kill a buck after killing a doe first.

“We’ve been really pleased with the hunters – their respect for properties and each other,” Warner said.

Nate Beccue, graduate student in ACES, works at Allerton and said 41 hunters have killed at least one deer each so far. He said more than nine out of 10 dead deer have been recovered after being shot.

“What is not unusual in a situation like this is that one out of three hunters will be successful,” Warner said. “If we told them that they could just go in and shoot a buck, we’d have a higher success rate.”

Beccue said some of the hunters donated deer meat to a program called Sportsmen Against Hunger. Others have taken the deer to a meat processor or had them mounted.

Dean Ashton of Elgin, Ill., took the deer home for meat to share with his wife.

“There is definitely an overabundance of deer in that park,” Ashton said. “I’m glad to see that they did put politics aside and allowed the deer hunt.”

Ashton also said he thought the deer hunt was an effective method and supports the University’s decision to have the deer hunt.

“It is very important that (the hunters) take female deer first, which really helps bring down the numbers,” Ashton said.

He said he does not believe archery is a cruel method as long as hunters remain ethical.

“The doe I shot ran 35 yards and died,” Ashton said. “That means it died in a matter of seconds.”

Queenie Tsui, senior in engineering, and president of Students Improving the Lives of Animals (SILA), is against the deer hunt.

“I still feel the administration pushed this hunt for no reason,” Tsui said.

Tsui said SILA is researching the possibility of developing more humane and cost effective methods of deer population management. She also said SILA is continuing to pressure the administration to discontinue hunting.

Don Rolla, executive director of the Illinois Human Political Action Community and University alumnus, said the University is setting the scene for an annual deer hunt.

“This was an ill-conceived plan,” Rolla said. “We’re not out to get the University. We’re not out to make them look bad. We want to do it right.”

Weatherford said she urges people to remember what is happening at Allerton.

“Every day there is another violent death at Allerton Park,” Weatherford said. “The place is supposed to be a place of peace and an animal sanctuary.”

While the dissent continues, Gortner said he has been very pleased with the hunt’s progress, given that it was Allerton’s first managed hunt.

“The first year probably won’t be as effective as we want it to be,” Gortner said.

Schejbal also said deer management is an on-going thing.

“We need to create a strategy for next year,” Schejbal said.

Schejbal said additional steps must be taken. He said the University will hire sharp shooters to kill 25 deer in January for research and make another count of the deer by helicopter early in the next year.

“Once we have that data, we’ll have a better idea (of the results),” Schejbal said.

Researchers also extract tissue from the base of the deer’s brain, collect blood samples and inspect them for ticks before the hunters take them home.

Warner said the Allerton site management and he learned two things from the deer hunt.

“For one, it’s helping us learn whether we can manage a hunt like this,” Warner said. “Second, we obtained a lot of tissue samples for research.”

Warner said the collected data are being analyzed at different laboratories, and he hopes the results will be ready in 2005.

“Once this hunt is over and we are able to look back and evaluate how things went, we can see what went well and what we need to improve,” Schejbal said.