Wednesday, August 09, 2006

OHIO NEWS: Overpopulation Prompts Hunting Proposal in County Park District

John Horton, Plain Dealer Reporter

Chardon Township- The Geauga County Park District intends to open some of its property to bow hunters this fall to reduce what officials called an overabundant and destructive white-tailed deer population.

The park system's three commissioners said during their Tuesday meeting that they plan to implement a hunting program to address the deer problem. The board is considering a proposal to allow hunting in seven areas that are not open to the public.

The county is also looking at controlled fall hunts on wild turkey and waterfowl.

The concept brought criticism from several residents at the meeting.

Sophie Horvath, 78, of Munson Township described the parks as a safe haven where animals should be protected. She accused the board of turning the county's acreage into "killing fields."

Similar complaints followed the district's decision to allow a spring turkey hunt this year.

"You encourage wildlife, and then you murder the wildlife that comes in," Horvath said.

But district Director Tom Curtin said deer are crowding onto park property, pushed into the areas by ongoing development. Deer counts commissioned by the park system over the past five years show far more animals than the land can support, Curtin said.

The count at one park property, the Becvar Preserve in Russell Township, showed 200 deer per square mile. Ideally, the number should be between five and 10, Curtin said.

The population density at the other properties selected for hunting ranged from 19 to 61 deer per square mile. The properties are in several Geauga communities, including Bainbridge, Chester, Claridon, Munson and Montville townships.

The close-clustered animals are devouring wildflowers and vegetation in the park, eliminating habitats needed by songbirds and insects, Curtin said. The district has been monitoring and studying the situation for years, he said.

"This is about maintaining a balance," said Curtin, who noted that other park systems and communities have begun culling deer herds in recent years.

T. Parkinson, 64, of Munson Township applauded the district's plan and said deer have become a local nuisance and a danger to motorists. He said parkland "should not be permitted to become a refuge for the excessive amount of animals present."

Park Commissioner Mark Rzesztarski said the board would act on the proposal after all details are ironed out. Only Geauga residents would be eligible to hunt the selected land.

"We are going to proceed," Rzesztarski said. "We have to."