Kane County bow hunters could help reduce the deer population in two forest preserves this fall under a plan a committee approved Thursday.
The preserve commission's utilization and planning committee agreed to allow such hunting, during the state's deer hunting season, at Freeman Kame and Brunner forest preserves in Gilberts and Dundee Township, respectively.
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The Kane County Forest Preserve District's committee has the power to enact programs, but the district's executive committee could also decide it merits in a vote by the full commission. The executive committee will decide Sept. 7.
The hunting would be part of the district's campaign to reduce the number of white-tailed deer in several forest preserves. An overabundance of deer is being blamed for loss of plants and trees, subsequently leading to loss of habitat for other kinds of wildlife. Their dining on native vegetation has cleared the way for nonnative trees, and maples, to thrive where oaks and hickories are supposed to be growing, according to a staff presentation on the subject.
"Trilliums and orchids (wildflowers) are pretty much candy to deer," said Bill Graser, the district's wildlife biologist.
Would-be hunters would pay $10 to enter a lottery for permits. A permit, which would cost $100, could be shared by two people. They would have to provide proof of hunter safety training and proficiency, and show where they would put their deer stand, which must be in the air.
The permit would assign the hunter to a specific zone in one of the preserves. They would have to sign in and out with a preserve worker, and would have to immediately notify the worker if they get a kill, which they'd be allowed to keep.
The deer would have to be tested for chronic wasting disease.
The population growth in deer is attributed to several factors, according to Graser. Their large predators are gone. Buildings, roads and farm fields have removed their normal habitat.
"But, ironically, habitat changes as a result of urbanization have made the remaining habitat conducive to deer," he said.
The district's staff thinks every adult female is having at least one fawn every year. In Kane and DuPage counties, adult deer have an 80 percent survival rate, and the main cause of death is "hit by car." Twenty-five percent of such crashes in Kane County happen within 500 feet of a forest preserve, Graser said.
One unusual thing naturalists are starting to see is deer eating eggs and nestlings out of birds' low nests, Graser said while showing a video.
The district will keep an eye on the deer population in other preserves that it suspects are close to being overpopulated, including Helm Woods in Barrington Hills, Burnidge in Elgin, Aurora West and Big Rock.
Picking what preserves to allow hunting is a matter of the number of deer per square mile, the damage they have done to the vegetation, and the quality of the preserve.
If archery doesn't work, sharpshooting would be the next step, Graser said. Professional sharpshooters, or trained district staffers, would do that. The meat would be processed and donated to charity food pantries, but the district would likely have to pay at least $60 for the processing, he said.
Sixty-five residents provided comments during public hearings in August, in letters and online. Eighty-four percent favored controlled archery, but only 39 percent favored sharpshooting. About half the commenters identified themselves as hunters.
"This is a common-sense approach to what has often been an emotional situation," committee member Mike Kenyon said.
Bill Siers of the North Rutland Deer Alliance said the group supports the plan, especially if it will help keep the Illinois Department of Natural Resources' sharpshooters out of the preserves. Last year, the district let the IDNR shoot deer in Freeman Kame to test for chronic wasting disease. Residents protested, and Siers, a deer hunter, said the IDNR shot too many deer.
Monica Meyers, the district's executive director, said she expects the IDNR to ask again, because it considers northern Kane County a "spark" area for the fatal, contagious neurological disease. "We don't want to see the DNR there again," Sires said. " ... We can't have a double whammy."