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Forest preserve to decide on method of deer control

December 05, 2011 at 07:44 AM

Rockford Register-Star

Commissioners with the Winnebago County Forest Preserve District will decide Tuesday whether to continue a sharpshooting program meant to reduce deer population in the Kishwaukee River corridor.

Their decision will be anxiously waited on by hunters, who hope the district takes a one-year reprieve from the program so the deer herd can rebound for the next hunting season.

Hunting is not allowed in any of the county forest preserves, but commissioners plan to study whether to change that, possibly taking a look at the way other districts handle their deer populations.

In the meantime, board Chairman Randy Olson has recommended a one-year hiatus for the sharpshooting program, asking Director Tom Kalousek after he and Commissioner Judy Barnard were invited to meet with about 50 hunters with the Plug & Pellet Sportsman’s Club in October. Kalousek said the program will be halted only at the request of the board. The district already has obtained a permit from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to cull 50 deer this year.

Sharpshooting relied upon
Members of the club, one of eight sportsman groups in the area, were concerned about the deer reduction program and hoped to set up a lottery system that would allow local hunters to apply to be sharpshooters for the district, Barnard told the commission Nov. 8, according to meeting minutes.

Such programs are already used by other forest preserves in Illinois. In Will County, the Forest Preserve District has four volunteer sharpshooters in its deer management program, though the majority is handled by forest preserve officers.

Those volunteers were required to pass criminal background checks and drug screening. They also had to prove they could hit a 1.9-inch circular target at 50 yards five times with only five attempts allowed.

Will County had also explored the use of contraceptive darts, a practice state officials said hasn’t proved effective.

“It is extremely laborious,” said Bruce Hodgdon, public information officer for the Forest Preserve District of Will County. “You have to dart the animal, bring it down, use the artificial contraceptive, tag the animal and then you have to find the animal again next year to see if indeed it was effective.”

Byron OKs bows
Recreational hunting, however, is not allowed, like most programs in Illinois. It was discussed by Will County commissioners two years ago before it began the first year of its sharpshooting program.

“If indeed we would have gone forward with some type of hunting, that would have broken our tradition that goes back (to 1927), when the forest preserve was created,” Hodgdon said.

Byron Forest Preserve District has never previously allowed hunting, but it plans to allow bow hunting next year in two newly acquired preserves. The district wants to allow archers to hunt deer in the 228-acre Barrick Oaks Homestead Preserve and the 280-acre Howard Coleman Hall Creek Preserve, both of which were acquired this year.

“Both those properties had deer hunting on them previously, so to keep the management like it has been, I’d like to continue a program,” said Todd Tucker, the Byron district’s executive director.

Byron’s district has never had an excessive population of deer in its other preserves or the need to run a sharpshooting program, Tucker said.

Bow hunting could be a fitting use for deer management in Winnebago County one day, Kalousek said.

“In the Kishwaukee corridor, it’s so heavily urbanized and used on an annual basis that I wouldn’t recommend we allow hunters to manage the wildlife or do recreational hunting,” he said. “We need to find other places that are more suitable for that kind of activity.”

Culling aims to protect
Bucks and does killed in the Byron bow hunt next year would be required to be tested for chronic wasting disease, a contagious and potentially fatal neurological disease for deer and elk, Tucker said.

Controlling the spread of chronic wasting disease and protecting the ecosystem from deer overgrazing is the motive behind Winnebago County’s sharpshooting program, which has been in place since winter 2003.

The district took 41 deer last year from seven preserves. Aerial counts showed the district has about 41 deer per square mile. That’s a drastic reduction from the 295 per square mile seen from aerial observations when the program started, but it’s still above the roughly 20 per square mile most northern Illinois forest preserves try to maintain. Some, like Lake County Forest Preserves, aim for populations as low as 15 deer per square mile in forested areas. Winnebago hopes to get its herd down to about 25 per square mile.

Winnebago uses its own staff to handle the sharpshooting program. They do so within the regular workweek, meaning no overtime pay for sharpshooters. The district estimated about $62 was spent for each deer taken during last year’s sharpshooting program, but that doesn’t include paid staff time.

Reach staff writer Kevin Haas at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or 815-987-1410.

Copyright 2011 Rockford Register Star. Some rights reserved

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