Thursday, May 18, 2006

ILLINOIS NEWS: Deer Culling in Chicago Extends Beyond O'Hare

The Chicago Park District plans to seek a permit to kill deer at a North Side nature preserve, and sharpshooters likely will begin thinning the herd this fall. Deer have overrun the North Park Village Nature Center at Pulaski and Peterson. Staff members said Wednesday there is no other choice than "managing" the white-tails' population.

Only one deer was seen there 10 years ago, but at last count, 20 of them now live at the 46-acre preserve. About half are pregnant does, due to give birth in the next few weeks. Deer usually bear twin fawns, "so the number could be doubling this year" -- to 40 -- said center director Claudia Regojo.

State wildlife experts say the acreage is large enough to support only one or two deer. But Regojo said that doesn't mean large numbers must be killed. Staffers will monitor plant loss -- the major reason the deer must go -- to determine how much to reduce the herd. She told center volunteers in a letter last week that "biological diversity" is the goal, "with each organism [plant or animal] carrying equal importance."

Rutting male deer "girdle" and kill trees by rubbing off bark with their antlers. Deer eat native wildflowers and make it hard to get new varieties started.

Public safety is another factor, Regojo said, noting that 12,000 schoolchildren visit in spring and fall. In fall -- mating season -- male deer can be aggressive. In spring, females nursing their young may endanger people who get too close.

A buck charged a man jogging along Bryn Mawr near the nature center last fall. The man wasn't injured. But last spring, two people were hospitalized out of seven who were attacked or threatened by does near the campus of Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.

The state issued 29 deer-culling permits in northern Illinois last winter and turned down none, said Marty Jones, urban deer project manager for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

There is no practical alternative to shooting the animals, Jones said. Relocation risks spreading the chronic wasting disease that deer carry. Newcomer animals must compete with established deer. And the mortality rate is high. "You can't catch enough to achieve your goals," he said.

As for contraception, "It's in its infancy, very experimental," he said.

But Steve Hindi of Geneva, president of SHARK (Showing Animals Respect and Kindness), said, "People who say contraception doesn't work [on deer] tend to be people who just want to shoot them."

For years, sharpshooters have been clearing O'Hare Airport of excess deer, which stray onto runways and taxiways. But using that method at the nature center would be the only other culling of deer ever done within the city limits, said Joel Greenberg, author of A Natural History of the Chicago Region.

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