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Urban Hunts The Solution

Allowing deer hunts in suburbia helps lower vehicle collision rates

By: Steve Rogers

As urban sprawl continues in suburban areas across the United States, bringing houses and roadways into what was previously healthy habitat for wildlife, nuisance deer problems will continue to occur.

In most cases, what has continually proven to be the best means of controlling these issues is the urban hunt.

Most state wildlife agencies across the country have proposed at least a few urban deer hunts as a means to control a nuisance deer herd. Despite the efforts to alleviate the dangers of vehicle collision, such proposals are often met with opposition from some of the area's home owners.

"From an agency standpoint, we see the urban hunts as a good solution," said Erin Shank, an urban wildlife biologist with the Missouri Department of Conservation. "Many times, however, the residents see the hunts as a last resort."

Many urban hunts are limited to archery and depending on the size of the herd and the nuisance factor, some bag limits are larger than those of the normal hunt. Special permits are usually required and some states - including Iowa and Arkansas - require proficiency testing for the archery hunters. 

For the 2012 hunt at several towns and communities in the north central part of the state, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission requires to hunters to donate their first deer to a state food bank charity. After one week of an urban hunt in Morgantown, W.Va., hunters had donated 543 pounds of venison to local shelters and food pantries.

Shank said the most common misconceptions of residents concerning an urban hunt have to do with safety.

"The first question is normally, 'What's going to stop someone from shooting my dog or my child?'" Shank said. "They do not realize that archery hunting involves short-distance shots with eyes on the target, and if an archer shoots someone, most likely a crime has been committed.

"The other thing is trespassing. People think there are going to be hunters wandering around in their backyard. We have to convince them that is not the case.

"After a year or so, those fears will fizzle out. But until they do, those fears are very real."

But sometime, the fears don't fizzle. 

Last week, an ordinance to allow deer hunting within the city limits of Cape Girardeau, Mo., was suspended after Keep Cape Safe, a group opposed to urban deer hunting, collected nearly 4,000 signatures on a referendum petition. Action on the matter will be taken at the Oct. 1 city council meeting.

Shank said the growth and success of urban hunts in her region have a long and sometimes slow process.

"It has taken awhile to change people's perceptions, not to mention any number of ordinances concerning the launching of projectiles while hunting in a residential area," she said. "But once we got a few successes under our belts, things began to work better."

Residents' deer complaints range from destruction of flower beds to fear of Lyme disease. But wildlife agencies and residents agree the biggest reason for thinning urban deer herds is the dangers they pose on the surrounding highways.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there are about 1 million car accidents with deer each year that kill 200 Americans, cause more than 10,000 personal injuries, and result in $1 billion in vehicle damage.

By way of comparison, sharks have killed 10 people in the USA in the past 10 years, according to the International Shark Attack File. Also, a list of known bear attacks maintained by Bearplanet.org says about 28 people have been killed by bears the past decade.

According to State Farm Insurance, for the fifth year in a row West Virginia topped the list of states where a driver is most likely to run into a deer. Other states in the top 10 are Iowa, South Dakota, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Montana, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota and Wyoming.

But urban hunts appear to be cutting into those numbers. Using its claims data, State Farm estimated 1.09 million vehicle collisions with deer occurred in the U.S. between July 1, 2010 and June 30, 2011. That's 9 percent less than three years ago and 7 percent less than one year ago.

"We see it as an abundant resource," said Shank, whose local area of St. Louis is one of the busiest in the country in terms of urban deer hunting. "Putting meat in the freezer rather than having an animal slaughtered on the highway and thrown away, that is good conservation practice."

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