Deer hunting by bow will be expanded this fall in Rutland Township. Kane County Forest Preserve District officials say it's necessary because of continued deer overpopulation. But some accuse the district of placing plant preservation ahead of deer preservation.
Last fall, the district introduced bow hunting for deer, through a lottery system for permits, at the Freeman Kame and Brunner Forest Preserves. The idea was to use local hunters to thin out a deer population district staff members say is decimating too much of the native plant life in those preserves. Specifically, oak and hickory seedlings are being turned into meals long before they have a chance to grow into trees. In turn, that's causing invasive species, like buckthorn, to replace the plant life that should exist in the local preserves, said Bill Graser, the district's wildlife biologist. Graser announced a bow hunting expansion Thursday to a committee of forest preserve commissioners.
"We've been monitoring the vegetation," Graser said. "It's not getting better; it's getting worse."
To address that, Graser announced bow hunters will be allowed to hunt deer in and around Camp Tomo Chi-Chi Knolls in Rutland Township this fall. Just like last season, there will be no limit to the number of deer hunters who win the permit lottery can take. The program, however, encourages hunters to kill female deer as the best way to prevent overpopulation. Last year, 24 hunters bagged 21 deer. One of them tested positive for Chronic Wasting Disease, a lethal condition first discovered in the local deer population just a few years ago.
While no one objected to the bow hunting program last year, it was that initial discovery of Chronic Wasting Disease that drew the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to Kane County. The agency enacted a culling program to help thin the herd and monitor the spread of the disease. But that program has proved to be unpopular among fans of the local deer population, particularly in Rutland Township, where the forest preserve district now wants to expand the bow hunting program.
Bill Siers of the North Rutland Deer Alliance lives next to Camp Tomo Chi-Chi. He said the combination of IDNR culling and forest preserve bow hunting has nearly eradicated the deer he used to see around his property.
"Four, five years ago there were dozens of deer all the time," Siers said. "Now, go take a look. They are all gone. These people are more interested in a plant management program than they are a deer management program. They go in, clear an area, and plant these tiny oak trees. Then the deer come along and eat them. So their solution is kill all the deer. We're all in favor of the bow hunting. It was run very well last year. But they should do it where there is actually a deer problem."
Graser said he understands and sympathizes with residents who are seeing fewer deer. But his annual aerial helicopter surveys of the deer herd show there are still too many deer in the area. He said the expansion of hunting into Camp Tomo Chi-Chi will only involve a handful of additional hunters who will probably take just a couple more deer out of the population.
"The problem is it's all a snapshot," Graser said. "They know what they see in their backyards. That's a snapshot. We see what we see in survey. That's a one-time snapshot. But we are looking at the full ecological picture."
District staff members said they expect the IDNR's culling program will also continue this fall.