Urban Deer Debate Is Spotlight for Conservation Message
Debates have taken place concerning urban deer hunts in a number of municipalities across Illinois in recent years, with the one of the latest being the city of Rock Island. Some of these communities have implemented bow hunts, while others, like Rock Island, continue to consider how and if they might utilize that option.
News reports concerning a potential Rock Island bow hunt show that this debate is longstanding, and while I’m hopeful that the area’s hunters get a new opportunity, I’m also not going to criticize community leaders for taking their time in carefully considering when, where and how their city might implement a hunt.
That might sound odd coming from a deer hunter and an advocate for hunting as a conservation tool, but let me explain.
A look at the quotes in Christine Souders’ report in the May 31 issue of Illinois Outdoor News alongside online reports by Taylor Umland and Bailey Deitz for NBC affiliate KWQC News on May 27, 2013 and March 15, 2012, respectively (see www.kwqc.com/story/22302140/urban-hunting-a-possibility-in-rock-island andwww.kwqc.com/story/17086546/debate-continues-on-rock-island-urban-deer-hunt), illustrates just how polarized these discussions can be. As expected, there are those who dislike bow hunting in general, those who say “fine, but not in my back yard,” and those who are simply tired of property damage caused by deer. There are also people on both sides who are rightfully concerned about keeping safety a top priority, and in the background are the hunters who simply want the chance to hunt where the deer are.
Obviously, no decision on the issue will make everyone happy, but a cautious approach beforehand with regard to the sensitivities of citizens ultimately helps hunting in the realm of public opinion. I’m not speaking so much in terms of anti-hunters who hold their stance based on an emotional response to the killing aspect of hunting. My concern is that we don’t risk damaging relationships with non-hunters who have a practical mindset about herd management, but no desire to witness the act of deer harvest being played out directly in front of them. Careful consideration of their feelings, and keeping hunting from becoming a spectacle in their neighborhoods, isn’t just about avoiding the creation of new opponents to hunting, it’s also about being a good neighbor. That’s something we should strive for in every aspect of community life.
The quote that really set me to thinking about the ramifications of urban deer hunts on the overall future of hunting was from Rock Island alderman P.J. Foley in the final paragraph of the May 31, 2013 article by Sounders in ION.
"It seems like 50 percent of the population wants a deer hunt and wants to thin the herd," said Foley. “The other 50 percent don't. They enjoy nature and the deer."
I don’t know Mr. Foley, but based on the other quotes from him in the aforementioned articles, I get the impression that he is considering the issue from a practical perspective (as any good alderman should) as well as seeking out the consensus of his constituents (as any elected official must). It was the phrasing of the quote as printed in the reports that caught my attention, as there is a subtle implication that bothered me. This may have been unintended, or it may directly represent the feelings of the citizens with whom he’s discussed this issue. The implication is that herd management through hunting and “enjoying nature and the deer” are somehow mutually exclusive in the eyes of the public.
If that is truly the belief of the residents who are opposed to hunting, then we still have a lot to do in spreading the real message about conservation and hunting, not to mention some stereotypes to dispel concerning the character and motivations of true hunters.
True hunters long to view wildlife in season and out of season, and we don’t imagine crosshairs superimposed on every deer we see. We love nature and appreciate the pleasure of cohabitating with deer as much or more than anyone, so the last thing we want to do is clear them all out. We know that harvesting deer means seeing fewer of them in the short-term, but that it also means seeing fewer lying dead from auto accidents or disease in the long-term. We know that harvesting some deer means less property damage and a healthier condition for the remainder of the herd, so that when deer are seen, they are enjoyed as beautiful and graceful creatures rather than seen as a nuisance or something to be pitied.
When done correctly, these urban hunts can be great opportunities to help non-hunters understand who hunters are and how hunting-based conservation policies can benefit everyone. If, on the other hand, urban hunts are approved and carried out haphazardly they can damage hunting’s reputation and future, both inside the local community and on a much greater scale.
I sincerely hope that the folks in Rock Island do adopt a hunt – one with regulations and considerations that make it win-win-win situation for hunters, residents and the overall condition of the deer herd which remains there. With proper thought and the application of good ethics, there’s no reason why it can’t be as successful.
And if that hunt does get approved, I wish all of you hunters there a safe and successful season. You’ll be in the spotlight representing all of us in the eyes of Rock Island residents, so please do us proud as we try to represent hunting well in our own communities.