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Sharpshooting to continue in Winnebago County forest preserves

December 07, 2011 at 06:41 AM

Rockford Register-Star

ROCKFORD — Sharpshooters will target deer in the Kishwaukee River corridor again this year as the Winnebago County Forest Preserve District works to thin the herd.

Commissioners were set to consider whether to put the program on a one-year hiatus, but board Chairman Randy Olson removed the proposal from the board meeting agenda Tuesday.

Olson favored a one-year break from the sharpshooting program to allow the deer population to multiply — a request he also heard from local hunters during a meeting in October. However, he said local talk radio conversation and editorials from the Register Star had transformed his suggestion into a divisive issue that he felt could unnecessarily cause a rift among commissioners.

“The Editorial Board chose to make it a bigger issue than it was,” Olson said. “It’s not an issue worth dividing this board up.”

See link to Rockford editorial below

Director Tom Kalousek had said the district would halt sharpshooting only at the recommendation of the majority of the board. Olson’s decision to remove the one-year sharpshooting ban from the agenda means district staff will go forward with plans to kill 50 deer this year from January to March.

“I didn’t know before the meeting until he announced it that he was pulling those items, but as far as I’m concerned this is part of our operational mission and we’re just going to move ahead,” Kalousek said.

The district started its sharpshooting program in the winter of 2003-04 to protect preserves from overgrazing. Deer can damage the forest ecosystem by eating bushes and shrubs and destroying habitat for other animals and plant species.

In 2004, aerial observations showed about 295 deer per square mile, according to the district. The district’s observations show that has dropped to 41 per square mile as of last year. The goal for the district is to reduce that even further, to about 20 to 25 deer, in line with state recommendations.

A one-year reprieve from sharpshooting was requested by local hunters with the hope that it would allow the deer herd to rebound in time for next year’s hunting season. Though the request wasn’t granted, the potential to open forest preserves to hunters is still on the district’s radar.

On Thursday, a focus group of hunters will meet with district staff as part of the board’s strategic planning process, which will outline the district’s future strategy and mission.
Kalousek has said previously that bowhunting could one day be a fitting activity at Winnebago County forest preserves, though it merits more study.

Representatives of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, who appeared before the board Tuesday to reiterate their support for sharpshooting, said there is room in county forest preserves for hunting, too.

IDNR wildlife biologists Tom Beissel and Doug Dufford told commissioners that the annual sharpshooting program was an important part of managing the spread of chronic wasting disease, a contagious and fatal neurological disease for deer and elk. There is no cure or treatment for it.

“We’re trying to fight a slow battle against this disease to keep prevalence low and infection rates slow until we get that tool that we hope will come to help us,” Beissel said. “It is on the horizon. There is a very good promise of a vaccine.”

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

Related stories

Rockford editorial: Sharpshooters best solution for deer control in forest preserves

At the DNR’s last count, there were 41 deer per square mile in WInnebago County forest preserves compared with the state guideline of 25 for a healthy herd. The best, most efficient and safest method of dealing with the deer is employing county sharpshooters.

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