Bellair Bambis: Resident blames UVA for increased deer population

Matt Bowen believes this deer was dying of disease, and blames the UVA Foundation for stopping a deer culling program on nearby properties. Courtesy Matt Bowen Matt Bowen believes this deer was dying of disease, and blames the UVA Foundation for stopping a deer culling program on nearby properties. Courtesy Matt Bowen

Matt Bowen came upon a juvenile buck “in its last throes” early Sunday morning, September 4, on Canterbury Road in his Bellair neighborhood. He contacted Albemarle County Animal Control to humanely dispatch it, and the next day, found the deer at the same spot, albeit with a bullet hole in its neck.

Bowen, a doctor, examined the beast and found no signs of trauma (aside from the bullet hole). “It was obviously gripped by a disease,” he says.

The incident reignited his ire with the UVA Foundation, a nonprofit that administers the university’s real estate holdings and obtained the 199-acre Foxhaven Farm in 2012. The entrance to the farm is at the back end of Bellair, and for years, its previous owners, Jane and Henderson Heywood, had used bowhunters to keep the deer population in check. That ceased when UVA Foundation took over the property.

“I do know there are a heck of a lot more deer,” says Bowen.

Bellair, like many high-end subdivisions on the west side of town, such as Farmington, Ednam Forest and Inglecress, allows residents to hire bowhunters to cull deer, an option even the City of Charlottesville is considering to combat an out-of-control population.

Tony Shifflett, who owns Rangeland Archery in Ruckersville and Urban Deer Management, started bowhunting in Foxhaven in 1994, when Jane Heywood contacted him. After UVA Foundation acquired the property, “They ran it through the board and decided not to allow any hunting and hiking on the property,” he says.

The foundation also owns neighboring Birdwood Golf Course, which used to have its own hunters to contain the deer, but UVA ceased that about the same time as Foxhaven, according to Shifflett.

Bill Cromwell is director of real estate asset management for the UVA Foundation, and he confirms that there has been no deer hunting at Foxhaven since UVA obtained the property in May 2012.

“Typically, such programs are undertaken on farms when deer populations are causing damage to property or crops,” he writes in an e-mail. “Foxhaven Farm is contiguous to the Birdwood Golf Course and other vacant, forested property owned by the foundation. We have not seen any damage to these properties as a result of deer populations. Should such a condition arise, the foundation would work with the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries to mitigate damages from deer or any other wildlife.”

Bellair “has a serious problem” that is “absolutely” connected to the decision to stop bowhunting on the UVA properties, making them a haven for deer, says Shifflett. He has clients in Bellair, where he takes out about 40 deer a year, as well as in a half dozen other subdivisions. The deer meat is donated to Hunters for the Hungry.

“I have seen deer with ribs showing and growths on them,” he says. “I can’t say it’s wasting because I find no dead deer”—except for the ones he routinely finds on the U.S. 29 bypass, to which Bellair backs up.

“The biggest fear homeowners have is ticks,” he says. “I personally know seven or eight people who have Lyme disease.”

Not everyone in Bellair is perturbed by the deer. Ralph Feil is secretary/treasurer of the Bellair Owners Association, and says he “has no clue” about whether deer are a problem in the neighborhood, although he also acknowledges that he lives in one of the first houses in the ’hood, which stretches more than a mile, and rarely visits the nether regions on the Foxhaven end.

“We’ve always had a policy to allow individual property owners to have bowhunters on their property to shoot deer,” he says. “We’ve never done it as an association.”

Bonnie Wood is president of the homeowners association, and she says the issue of bowhunting usually comes up at the annual meeting, but it’s not a major concern.

What is a major concern: “Somebody reported a rabid skunk the other day,” she says. “A neighbor was able to take it down with an air gun.” Animal control confirmed the skunk was rabid, she says.

Chronic wasting disease is a fatal neurological condition affecting deer, elk and moose—but not humans. It’s a big concern for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. Lee Walker with the DGIF says an outbreak was found in the northwest corner of the state in 2009. “We inherited it from West Virginia,” he says.

And while he’s not aware of any outbreaks in the Albemarle area, he describes stricken deer: “They look sickly. They basically starve to death. They deteriorate to the point they collapse and die.”

Hemorrhagic disease is a more common deer disorder caused by black fly bites, he says, and outbreaks occur almost every year in the southeastern United States.

Whether the deer Bowen found had either of those is unknown. When he found its carcass the next day, he disposed of it, and he questions police leaving it on the side of the road.

That’s standard procedure, according to Lieutenant Todd Hopwood with the Albemarle County Police Department. “If an injured deer is in the roadway or a hazard, we do euthanize them with a shot to the head,” he says. “We notify VDOT if it’s on a state-maintained road.” If it’s a private road, it’s up to the property owner to dispose of the remains. Bellair is a county road.

Bowen says he routinely sees a dozen deer in Bellair yards, overgrazing the fauna. Between the risk of disease and the deer “lollygagging at the bypass,” putting drivers at risk, he says, “Deer are a major public hazard.”

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