Friday, April 02, 2010

ILLINOIS NEWS: Forest Preserve Considers Public Deer Hunting

This fall, the Will County Forest Preserve District may become the first in Illinois to allow public hunting on its land.

It's part of a proposed program to bring the deer population down to a healthy level for both the animals and nature, forest preserve officials said.

"We're the first to allow public hunting, but we're the only one not doing any culling," forest preserve district executive director Marcy DeMauro said. "The deer are everywhere."

Before final approval of the deer management program in May, the forest preserve district will hold three meetings to discuss it, including one from 5 to 8 p.m. April 13 at Four Rivers Environmental Education Center, McKinley Woods, 25055 W. Walnut Lane, Channahon.

The lack of a previous management program coupled with the urbanization of the county have resulted in deer counts as high as 153 per square mile in Channahon's McKinley Woods. An "acceptable" level is 20 per square mile, officials said.

"All preserves have more deer than can naturally be sustained. We have no choice but to cull the herds," forest preserve board president Cory Singer said. "There is no other reasonable option to consider. Our primary responsibility is to manage and maintain public lands. We have to employ deer management practices. It would be irresponsible not to."

Other options, such as deer repellent, fencing, fertility control and relocation either are too expensive or ineffective, according to forest preserve district research.

Public hunting will be a "small part of the solution," Singer said. A limited number of permits could be issued by a lottery because officials expect high interest from local hunters. Permit fees have yet to be determined.

As in other forest preserves, most herds will be thinned out by sharpshooters - police and trained volunteers who will trap and shoot the deer at night. The meat will be butchered and donated to organizations to feed the hungry.

DeMauro said there would be specified seasons for hunting. Those using firearms would have two three-day sessions in November and December. Archery would be permitted from Oct. 1 through mid-January.

In some areas, trails and preserves would be closed to the public during hunting season, Singer said.

In developing the new deer management program, the forest preserve district must follow the requirements of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Sharpshooting only is allowed in areas with more than 30 acres with a 100-yard buffer from adjacent property owners. Archery and firearms can be used on sites of 70 acres or more, but firearms require a 300-yard buffer. All sites must be fully or partially owned by the forest preserve district.

According to these criteria, 16 sites are suitable for sharpshooting, 14 for archery and eight for firearms, DeMauro said, but it is likely not all will be used.

Singer hopes a successful hunting program will lead to more new programs such as hunting opportunities for youth and people with disabilities and gun safety classes.

Source: Plainfield Sun