Sharpshooting program causes friction in northern Illinois

Cherry Valley, Ill. — The animosity of a group that opposes deer culling programs and sharpshooters was recently taken up a notch as allegations of trespassing were made against DNR employees.

A Boone County landowner  called police in late February after discovering customized “No Trespassing” signs had been removed from his property, which is adjacent to where DNR conducts sharpshooting.

Jim Blackmer said he has had problems with DNR since it gained permission to conduct sharpshooting on land that adjoins his, and has found evidence of places he believes the sharpshooters have shot deer inside his property line. As a result of the suspected trespassing, he and his son, Bob Blackmer, built and posted signs reading “No Trespassing/Sharpshooting” in their fields.

“I didn’t think much of it when I found one of the signs bent up one day,” Bob Blackmer said. “I went to get a stronger post to attach it to and when I returned, the sign was gone.”

Bob Blackmer then called the Boone County police. Eventually, the Illinois State Police were also called and followed up by going to the office of Tom Beissel, DNR’s regional wildlife biologist, where a similar sign to the one posted on the Blackmer property was  reportedly found.

Blackmer filed charges and, according to court records, Beissel has a March 23 court date in Boone County.

DNR spokesman Chris McCloud said that the alleged incident was under investigation by the agency, and he wasn’t able to give further comment. A message left with Beissel’s assistant was not returned.

Boone County is one of 10 northern Illinois counties considered high risk for chronic wasting disease.

According to state records, about 7,500 deer were tested for CWD statewide during 2010-11. There were 42 CWD-positive deer from the 10 counties. Results of 2011-12 testing are not yet available.

Despite criticism from an anti-culling group, DNR maintains that sharpshooting is a valuable tool in CWD testing and research.

“Our sharpshooting program is an excellent source for collecting data on CWD where it has been found in the past,” DNR spokesman Tim Schweizer recently told the Northwest Herald of McHenry County, one of the 10 counties that has had positive CWD cases. “It reduces the density to prevent it from spreading any further.”

But opponents to the program have gotten more and more vocal in recent months.

Gary Nefstead, who owns 2,300 acres in Kings, an unincorporated part of Coles County, said he and his neighbor, Dick Chudoba, have been fighting the program for eight years. They actually helped the DNR with deer culling in the beginning – until they were told they were not needed.

Three dead deer this year alone have been found on Nefstead’s land. Chudoba, who also hunts there, noted that he believes these deer were killed by sharpshooters. Two were bucks, and Chudoba noted that one of them had broken ribs alluding to the possibility of bullet penetration. Chudoba has become a vocal opponent of the sharpshooting program.

“The deer belong to the state – the state is the people,” he said. “The DNR , in my well thought-out opinion, wishes to own the deer and be paid handsomely to control them.”

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