Growing deer population causes health concerns, group says. Mike Penprase News-Leader
A group studying Springfield's deer population will recommend this week that the herd be thinned by an urban archery deer hunt. Citing health threats to both the animals and humans with whom they share space, the group will tell the Springfield City Council on Tuesday that a hunt is the best way to address the situation, according to Springfield/Greene County Health Department Director Kevin Gipson.
Allowing archers to hunt deer inside city limits became an off-limits idea in the late 1990s, when the city formally banned archery hunting.
"Since then the Conservation Department has done some deer studies around the nature center," Gipson said Saturday. "They're seeing populations of up to 170 per square mile. For a healthy population, they would like to keep it around 20."
Deer biologists contend that whitetail deer are more susceptible to devastating diseases such as hemorrhagic fever, or bluetongue, if herds are allowed to grow beyond natural limits, but Gipson's concern is to protect human health, he said.
"I think one of the most alarming things is, we're seeing a significant increase in tick-borne illnesses, and we believe there is some correlation because deer ticks are a major vector for Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis and Rocky Mountain spotted fever," he said.
Gipson and city employee J.D. Slaughter will brief council members on a deer task force's recommendations during the council's Tuesday lunch session.
The task force also wants to avoid problems caused by unrestricted archery hunting, Gipson said.
Hunts would be restricted to archers who take special training courses and use tree stands so arrows that miss their marks will hit the ground, he said. Deer that are killed will have to be removed at once, and the venison will be given to the Department of Conservation's Share the Harvest Program for distribution to food banks.
Considering a reversal of the 1997 ban on using broadhead arrows to hunt deer inside city limits likely will create a predictable reaction, Gipson said.
"It's going to be controversial. I don't think there's going to be any doubt," he said.
Task force members expect that if the council considers the proposal, it will hold sessions to get the public's views.
The Department of Conservation isn't asking cities to consider holding archery deer hunts, but is providing advice, said department deer biologist Lonnie Hansen.
Several cities, including Columbia, hold urban deer archery hunts, he said.
The task force included advisers from Conservation and members of the health department, parks department and other groups, Gipson said.
The group learned that Conservation has tried to cut urban deer numbers by using contraception, capture-and-release and sharpshooting, he said.
Contraception and sharpshooting by expert marksmen work but are expensive, he said, and the use of capture-and-release in communities such as Town and Country near St. Louis shows a high percentage of relocated deer die after they are released.
But that seems to be what many people expect Conservation to do if there are deer or other animals in conflict with urban development, Springfield Conservation Nature Center Director Linda Chorice said.
"One of the first questions the urban public asks is, 'Are you going to relocate it,'" she said.
Chorice said that as more people become aware of the challenges too many deer pose, they seem more willing to consider how to reduce herd size.
The idea of allowing hunting near the nature center, Lake Springfield Park and nearby neighborhoods caused Bill, Norma and Julie Johnson to stop in their tracks while on a Saturday afternoon walk in their Old Southern Hills subdivision.
The Johnsons said they and other neighbors enjoy the deer, with some people moving into the area because they want to live near the animals.
"I'd say, leave them alone," Bill Johnson said. "We enjoy having them up in the yard."
For her part, Norma Johnson said she doesn't think much of the argument deer might spread diseases to humans.
"Birds carry diseases too," she said. "So what are they going to do about the birds?"