Harrisburg — Urban deer management has long been a problem in need of a solution.
No one’s ever talked about answers like these, though.
Experts and deer managers around the country are starting to consider letting hunters use techniques heretofore only practiced by poachers, or turning deer into a commercial commodity, as ways of bringing numbers under control.
Marrett Grund, leader of the farmland wildlife research group with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources – and a former deer biologist with the Pennsylvania Game Commission – said at a deer conference earlier this year that deer hunting has largely been conducted on an assumption of “equitable distribution.”
The rules are designed to let all hunters have an equal chance at deer.
That’s worked well for a long time, and continues to be fine in more rural areas, he said.
But that mindset doesn’t necessarily fit when it comes to urban deer management, he added. In those situations, Grund pointed out, recreation takes a back seat to controlling populations.
Or at least it should. That’s the idea, anyway. But existing rules are hamstringing hunters, Grund added.
“Ultimately, in urban communities, the goal is to drive deer herds down. We want to make hunters as efficient as possible,” he said.
“They can provide a free ecological service. But if we’re going to use that model, we have to give them many more tools, and much more opportunity.”
Specifically, Grund said wildlife agencies and communities might need to consider letting urban hunters shoot deer before sunrise and after sunset, while simultaneously approving the use of artificial lights and bait.
He’s not suggesting carte blanche allowance of those tools, he said. They might be restricted to hunters in treestands who have demonstrated proficiency, to allay any fears about safety, he said.
Likewise, communities may need to push for Sunday hunting in urban areas.
Many hunters work too late into the day during the week to really hunt then, Grund said. That limits them to Saturdays. Giving them an extra weekend day would essentially double their time in the woods.
It would also level the playing field, as other ways of controlling deer already get Sundays, he noted.
“Sharpshooters can kill deer on Sundays, I assure you,” Grund said.
If all of that seems radical, hunters, biologists and game agencies need to remember that urban residents just want deer managed, he said. If hunters can do it, at no cost, many will be OK with that, he said. But
if hunters can’t, those urbanites will look elsewhere for solutions, he noted.
One example of that is the idea of allowing people to sell urban deer. That’s actually being pushed in places.
A team of researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison published a paper suggesting that perhaps the time has come to allow hunters – specially-permitted ones, with state-sanctioned approval – to take deer in urban areas and sell the meat to restaurants and individuals.
“This is not, and we’ve never suggested it might be, designed to replace recreational hunting as a way to control wildlife populations. It might just be another tool in the toolbox. And we’d like to give it a try,” said the university’s wildlife extension specialist, David Drake.
That might mean allowing it in places where there’s no other hunting taking place, or after traditional hunting seasons have closed for the year, he added.
Some believe that kind of thinking runs counter to the “North American Model” of wildlife conservation, which says that wildlife belongs to the people and cannot be sold. But Drake said neither he nor his fellow researchers are suggesting a return to the “exploitative” market hunting of yesteryear.
Rather, they’re looking at something controlled, that would work the same way that trappers are allowed to sell furs, he noted.
A New Jersey lawmaker, Caroline Casagrande, introduced legislation earlier this year that would have paved the way for such commercial hunting to take place. She even promised a public hearing on the issue.
Intense criticism from some sportsmen’s groups and pressure from the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife caused her to pull back, however.
Drake said he’s hopeful someone will be willing to try the idea somewhere, though.
The number of hunters is stable, if not declining, he said. Urban sprawl is continuing. Deer populations in the suburbs are growing.
That’s going to dictate finding new solutions, whether people like it or not, he said.
“It’s kind of inevitable, unfortunately,” Drake said.