There will be no bowhunting for deer in Cape Girardeau this fall.
The ordinance that would have allowed deer hunting within the city limits is now officially suspended. Keep Cape Safe, a group opposed to urban deer hunting, collected nearly 4,000 signatures on a referendum petition, which was certified Friday by the Cape Girardeau city clerk.
The group needed 2,446 certified signatures to put the referendum to a public vote. Cape Girardeau County Clerk Kara Clark Summers verified 3,911 signatures of legally registered voters before returning the petition to the city clerk for certification. Members of Keep Cape Safe collected signatures at the polls during the primary election Aug. 7 and went door to door throughout the city in July and August.
The referendum is the first in the city's history.
The Cape Girardeau City Council passed the ordinance July 16, which would have allowed bowhunting for deer on tracts of at least three acres during four months in the fall. The council now has 30 days to repeal the ordinance or the issue will be placed before voters in a future election. Action on the matter will be taken at the Oct. 1 council meeting, according to a release from the city's public information office.
Keep Cape Safe members have said they do not wish for a special election because they do not want residents to have to foot the bill. A special election would run about $25,000. The cost to add the issue to a ballot in a regularly scheduled election would be about $15,000. The deadline has passed for the issue to be placed on the November ballot, leaving April 2 as the next possible date.
Steve Stigers, leader of Keep Cape Safe, said the group is hopeful the council will repeal the ordinance, which passed on a 4-3 vote, but if it does not, he is confident voters will not approve allowing hunting in city limits. Stigers also said no matter what the council decides, he is ready to begin organizing a new group that would provide the city with alternatives that would "help limit human and deer contact."
"We have so many citizens who are already very involved and very concerned with this issue," Stigers said.
Stigers' ideas for alternatives to hunting include holding meetings to educate residents on how to design their landscapes to protect from damage caused by wildlife and exploring other measures such as amending speed limits on roads deer are known to frequently cross.
Proponents of urban deer hunting have said allowing it would help prevent destruction of lawns and cut down on automobile accidents involving deer.
Stigers said he would also like the group to find a way to count and monitor the city's deer population on its own, separate from a count the city and the Missouri Department of Conservation plan to conduct this fall. The reason, he said, is that he and group members do not trust the other count's method will be accurate.
Matt Bowyer, a department wildlife management biologist, said the count, which is the first of its kind to be conducted in Cape Girardeau, is based on models the department has used in other urban areas and is accurate as is possible.
"You can never look out and say, 'There are exactly this many deer,'" Bowyer said.
The department conducts drive-by counts by randomly selecting routes through an area and scanning with a spotlight. Once deer are spotted, a range finder is used to determine the distance between the count takers and the animals, Bowyer said, and data is collected and run through a program that provides a density estimate for an area. The department also records the deer's approximate age and whether it is male or female.
The department worked with the Cape Girardeau Police Department's animal control to identify known "hot spots" for deer sightings so as not to include too many of those spots in the count, Bowyer said.
The count will begin when the leaves fall off the trees because visibility will be at its highest, and after this year, the department would like to conduct the count annually, Bowyer said.
Per the ordinance, bowhunting season in the city was set to open and close at the same time as the state's hunting season, Sept. 15 through Jan. 15, with a break Nov. 9 to 21 for the main portion of firearms deer hunting season in nonurban areas. Fifty people registered for a bowhunter's education class the department held Saturday in Cape Girardeau, five times the normal number, according to its instructor, Dee Dee Dockins, an outdoor skills specialist.
Dockins said Friday it would be speculation to attribute the high registration number to the anticipation of bowhunting within city limits, because around half of those registered were from areas as far away as Kansas City and St. Louis while the remainder were local, and the class was the last to be held by the department anywhere in the state before the opening of the season.
401 Independence St., Cape Girardeau, MO