Forest preserve board votes to keep DNR sharpshooters out
ROCKFORD — Commissioners of the Winnebago County Forest Preserve District stood by their decision to keep sharpshooters from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources off their property this year.
The board was asked by the IDNR to rethink its January decision to keep state sharpshooters out of Winnebago County preserves this year. The state culls deer as part of its effort to slow the spread of chronic wasting disease, a fatal neurological disease for deer. The disease has not been proved to be a threat to humans or agricultural livestock.
Commissioners heard from a handful of hunters and representatives of the IDNR on Wednesday before they opted to stick with their original vote.
The decision pleased hunters, many of whom feel the area’s deer herd has been thinned too much by sharpshooting efforts, and others who feel chronic wasting disease isn’t the threat it’s believed to be by the IDNR.
The state’s sharpshooting program has culled 268 deer in Winnebago County forest preserves since 2004. Only three of those deer tested positive for the fatal disease.
“Only 1 percent of all the animals shot have the disease,” said Ron
Schneider, a hunter and one of 35 candidates who ran for commissioner in November 2010. “You’re killing 99 animals to save one. The solution is worse than the disease.”
The state says sharpshooting serves an important purpose, even when more
healthy deer are killed than sick ones. That’s because herd reduction is the only method to combat the spread of the disease, said Paul Shelton, IDNR forest wildlife program manager.
“The higher the density, the more frequently the sick animals come into contact with uninfected animals,” Shelton said.
Schneider and many other hunters want the Forest Preserve to let sportsmen take part in deer culling. Hunting has never been allowed in the 90-year history of the Forest Preserve District.
“Sportsmen are willing to provide hours of service, not only in harvesting deer and helping you out, but also in other projects. Just for the chance to come in and harvest some deer and help with the population,” he said.
The IDNR had not initially specified how many deer it wanted to take from county preserves. On Wednesday, representatives said they wanted a total of 30 deer from four preserves where the disease has been previously recorded.
“The reason the disease rates have remained so low is because we have
taken action,” Shelton said. “The best window of opportunity to defeat a disease outbreak is at the beginning, before the disease is firmly established.”
Though commissioners put a stop to the state’s sharpshooting program, their own deer-culling efforts meant to reduce the population of deer in the Kishwaukee River corridor continued.
Forest Preserve District sharpshooters killed 50 deer this year during sharpshooting efforts. Results for how many tested positive for chronic wasting disease are not yet available.
The district started its sharpshooting program in 2004, when aerial surveys counted 295 deer per square mile in the Kishwaukee River corridor. The state recommends about 25 deer per square mile for a healthy herd because too many deer can harm the ecosystem by eating shrubs, bushes and destroying habitat for other animals and plant species.
The district has killed 1,353 deer since its sharpshooting program began in 2004, starting with 300 deer culled that year, according to statistics from the state.
Aerial surveys show the population dropped from 295 per square mile to 29 per square mile in 2009 in the Kishwaukee River corridor, according to the district. The herd has rebounded slightly in the past two years as the district has taken fewer deer during sharpshooting. January’s aerial views showed about 52 deer per square mile, according to the district.