Deer control

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The debate of how to control the deer population in Cape Girardeau dates back to 2008 when representatives of the Missouri Department of Conservation began talking to Cape Girardeau city officials about allowing bowhunting in the city limits to curb a growing problem.

The issue didn't gain much momentum at the time, but it was resurrected in September last year when councilman John Voss asked that the city revisit the idea of creating a highly restricted program that would allow bowhunting for does during the regular deer season.

Since that time, the council has learned how controversial it can be to govern.

The council ought to be commended on certain points. This has been a transparent process that involved an ad hoc committee and public hearings and discussions. (See timeline on page 13A.) People had their say, even if they didn't like the result. The issue itself evokes strong emotions from those who have been in accidents or have had their property damaged by the deer herds that have no natural predators to keep the numbers down. Meanwhile, some property owners welcome the deer, putting out food plots to attract the animals. Some have argued strongly that no hunting should be allowed under any circumstances. Some would prefer more expensive methods, such as trapping or contraception. Others have argued just as passionately that something must be done to thin the deer population, and that hunting is the best, most cost-effective way to do it.

Some believe that some sort of deer population control makes sense, including a bow hunt, if it can be determined that the population is a problem. Currently, the city has no official count of deer, but the Missouri Department of Conservation has testified that the deer population is high. Some want to know what the number is and have more assurance that an urban hunt will fix the problem before the hunt is implemented.

The council is just as divided as the community. An ordinance was given first-round approval June 18 by a 4-3 margin. A second reading and approval will take place at its next meeting on July 2.

While the city did a good job in getting the community involved, the ordinance as proposed comes with some flaws.

Without knowing what the deer population is, and without being able to compare it to what would be acceptable, there really isn't data to suggest or guide how restrictive the hunt should be. The council originally asked the city staff to come up with an ordinance that included just about every restriction that the council could think of. The council then would trim out the restrictions to come up with the final ordinance. The original document contained insurance provisions and proof of neighbor notification that would have, through the bureaucratic red tape, limited hunting so that the desired outcome -- fewer deer -- would be difficult to obtain.

The changes from the original to the final version changed the scope of the hunting concept and were not put through the same scrutiny that the council had employed throughout the process. And in our view, the changes went a little too far.

The ordinance set the minimum property size for hunting at one acre, although adjacent landowners could combine parcels. Even though hunters would not be allowed to shoot arrows that would land within 75 feet of any front yard property line or within 50 feet of any street, we're somewhat concerned about safety, particularly because hunters would not be required to hunt from stands as was required in the first draft ordinance. A Department of Conservation official last October said arrows generally travel less than 20 yards because hunters generally use tree stands. While most hunters wouldn't attempt a shot at more than 50 yards, arrows can travel much further, well over 100 yards given an upward trajectory. Also, there is no restriction in the harvesting of does vs. bucks. This gives credibility to naysayers who suggest the ordinance is written more for hunters than for population control.

The urban deer hunt will possibly go to a citywide vote if opponents gather enough signatures. It's not clear if a majority support a hunt. If the city council believes it will go to a tight citywide vote, this ordinance doesn't seem to offer a lot of middle ground to sway on-the-fence voters who need convincing that there is a big deer problem and that a bow hunt will fix it in a way that is safe.

The council ought to be commended for taking on a tough issue -- one that left unaddressed could progressively get worse -- even though there are more important issues facing the city right now. And it's fair to say that this issue has dragged on long enough, and it's time to decide and move on. That might not happen.

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