‘Medieval solution:’ Resistance emerges to plans for potential deer culling

A proposed citywide culling could help manage the deer population. File photo A proposed citywide culling could help manage the deer population. File photo

 

Calling the potential deer culling in Charlottesville a “Trumpian solution to a practically nonexistent problem,” one city resident says policymakers should consider non-lethal alternatives before condoning a city-sponsored killing.

“We all live in Charlottesville because we appreciate the natural world and what it adds to our human life,” Holly Court resident Laura Jones wrote in a letter to City Council. “Deer are part of that world.”

She received a response from Kristin Szakos, who wrote that she has followed the issue for six years, both as a city councilor and a Locust Grove resident, and that she understands Jones’ “love of deer in [her] neighborhood.”

“I’m not a deer-lover,” says Jones, who adds that she has spoken up for those who do not wish to see wildlife slaughtered in their backyards. “Using a bowhunter to kill deer within the city limits is a dangerous idea and a medieval solution to a 21st-century problem.”

The only city ordinance that refers to bows and arrows says, “No person shall discharge arrows, nails or bullets from a bow or crossbow in or into any street or other public place…This section shall not be constructed to prohibit the use of bows and arrows on authorized archery ranges.” But City Attorney Craig Brown points out that a “public place” is not defined in the code, so whether hunting is allowed has been debated.

Charlottesville does not have ordinances regulating hunting, Brown says, “except for a prohibition on hunting birds and wild fowl,” and while it does have the power to adopt an ordinance on bowhunting within city limits, it has not done so.

Deer may be killed with a permit issued by the Department of Game & Inland Fisheries, however. Matt Knox, a deer project coordinator with the department, says 545 kill permits have been issued specifically for deer in Albemarle County since 2012, with 86 of those issued this year. Most of the addresses on the permits, though, are in Kewsick or North Garden, he says.

In Szakos’ e-mail response to Jones, the councilor said she first, “as an animal-lover,” was optimistic about finding a non-lethal way to control the deer population, but research has “led [her] to regard that path as unfeasible, expensive and ultimately ineffective.” Wrote Szakos, “I now believe that the only way to effectively reduce the population and address these issues is through hiring professional bowhunters to selectively kill deer.”

Their e-mail exchange happened just before the July 18 meeting in which David Kocka, a representative from the Virginia DGIF, presented the state’s DGIF report and said hunting is the most effective means of controlling the deer population.

The report did not have any Charlottesville-related deer population data, though Kocka did say the state’s deer population is stable and not increasing. In a submitted report to council members, but not in the presentation given to them, seven out of nine population-management options did not include human hunting or sharpshooting.

The report further informed Szakos’ opinion, she says, adding she learned cities that have hired sharpshooters to kill the deer have spent upward of $100,000 and have not been able to get the numbers down significantly.  Opening the regional hunting season in the city may be the best alternative, she says.

“It wasn’t exactly what I was ready for,” she adds. “I’m still struggling with the idea of it.”

Though it doesn’t initially seem like it, Szakos says allowing locals to bowhunt deer within city limits could be more humane than current circumstances.

“We are culling them now with cars,” she says, adding that she lives on the bypass and has heard them get hit in the past. “I’ve discovered that deer can scream. It’s horrible to listen to them die.”

So far this year, 60 reports of dead deer in a right of way have been filed in Charlottesville, whereas only 47 were filed in 2015 and 11 in 2014, according to data from the Department of Public Works.

Numbers show that deer running into highways are a persistent problem, but relying on culling with cars is not enough, says Szakos. “We need to come up with something better than that. The status quo is not an option at this point.”

The DGIF report, she says, reminded her that humans are the natural predator to deer.

“[Hunting] reinforces to the deer that they are prey animals, which our deer have forgotten because there is nothing preying on them,” Szakos says. “By having predators in the ecosystem, it causes deer to act like prey animals and not be strutting down the sidewalk and intimidating pets,” which are both issues locals have complained about to council.

Jones is “very surprised,” she says, that council “swallowed [Kocka’s] data, hook, line and sinker,” without questioning the lack of city-related statistics or pressing the DGIF for non-lethal alternatives, but a vote was not taken and Szakos says they will hold a public hearing in the future.

Jones says Kocka touted “killing for convenience” because the report showed that Charlottesville does not need to reduce the deer population for biological reasons, but because locals are irritated with the animals for trivial things, such as eating their plants.

“It frightened me to live in a place where people value landscape more than life,” Jones says.

Kocka says it is nearly impossible to measure deer in any city or town because “populations are not static, to begin with.” He says controlling numbers of deer is based on a town’s “cultural carrying capacity,” or the idea that everyone has a certain tolerance for wildlife.

“That’s the crux of the issue,” he says. “When you start whacking them with your cars and they’re eating shrubbery around your house, that’s when a lot of people’s tolerance is exceeded.”

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