Residents suggest alternatives to hunting
The prospect of bow hunting inside Fairfield’s city limits has generated plenty of controversy, as evidenced by the public response at Monday’s city council meeting.
The controversy among the councilors appeared to be muted, however, as the six present members voted to approve the first reading of an ordinance to allow bow hunting in select wooded areas. Councilor John Revolinski was absent from the meeting.
Before it is adopted, the ordinance must go through two more readings. The city council will not meet Monday, Nov. 11, because of Veterans Day and will meet the following day instead.
After discussing the ordinance for a few minutes among themselves, the councilors opened the public hearing on the ordinance. Ten people from the audience took to the microphone to voice their opinions.
Resident LaVon Hostetler spoke in favor of the ordinance, arguing that the city was suffering from an abundance of deer that have wreaked havoc on gardens and flowerbeds. Hostetler said that with no predators to worry about, the deer population has soared. Not only that, the deer are increasingly more brazen about entering backyards.
Hostetler said cities across the state and across the nation have held accident-free hunts for years. Councilor Michael Halley said he was aware of only two cases of injuries during an urban bow hunt and both cases involved a hunter falling from his tree stand. He said he was not aware of any reported cases of an injury from an arrow.
Many audience members who spoke on the issue were opposed to the hunt. Resident Diane Rosenberg said she recognizes deer cause problems for people in town. In fact, she said deer have eaten the okra in her garden, too. However, she feared that hunting the deer in the city limits would endanger the public. She said her children have ventured into the part of O.B. Nelson Park that would be open to hunting.
“Yes, it’s very wooded but that doesn’t mean people don’t go back there,” she said. “What child doesn’t like to explore a wooded area? It’s important for our population to have a place where they don’t have to worry about hunting.”
Rosenberg said the police have no data on the amount of foot traffic through the wooded areas that will be open to hunting. The areas that will be open to hunting include two main areas. One area is on land between Jefferson County Park and the Jefferson County Fairgrounds. The other area is east of the tennis courts by the middle school and extends south of the baseball field.
The hunt will last a combined four days, on two Saturdays and two Sundays when students are on Christmas break. The first weekend is Dec. 28-29 and the second is Jan. 4-5.
Rosenberg suggested four non-lethal alternatives to curbing the problems caused by deer. One of them involves immunocontraception, which is a vaccine that is injected in an animal and prevents it from getting pregnant. It can be injected in an animal with a dart rifle. Another idea is to use a technology called “Deer Deter” that emits a sound to keep deer off the road.
Her third idea was to plant food plots outside the city to lure the deer away from town and hunt them there. One of the councilors pointed out it is illegal to bait deer in Iowa. Rosenberg’s fourth suggestion was to scare away the deer by firing blanks in the area, or perhaps by leaving the scent of a dead deer. She said that would send the message to the deer not to come into town and it would not require killing the deer.
Resident Christine Boxerman had other suggestions for the council. She recommended firing something at the deer that would sting them without killing them. Boxerman was also curious to know what training the hunters would have who would participate in the hunt.
Fairfield Police Lt. Colin Smith said there was no training per se, but the hunters would have to pass a proficiency test. The test requires the hunter to hit an 8-inch target eight out of 10 times from a distance of 20 yards. Police chief Julie Harvey said the number of hunters would be kept low, to between six and eight.
Resident Nikki Weaver managed wildlife for 15 years when she lived in California. Only once in her career did local authorities need to use lethal force against animals, and that was to kill a couple of coyotes that had attacked small children.
Weaver said deer will stay away from an area if they smell the urine of a predator. She suggested the city could spread mountain lion urine in areas where it didn’t want deer.
“This is Mother Nature resolving a problem, not through killing but through natural means,” she said.
Boxerman said the city could put predator urine in a crop duster and spray it over the area where deer were unwanted.
Another technique Weaver learned is to set up a scarecrow equipped with a motion sensor. When the scarecrow senses movement in an area, it sprays water in that direction.
Weaver said the city should demand more statistics on collisions caused by deer and where they occur. She said killing deer on the south side of town may not reduce collisions if most of the collisions occur on the north side of town.
Harvey said the police do not keep records on deer collisions because it is a matter between the driver and his insurance company, not law enforcement.
Weaver said she worried about amateur archers participating in the hunt. She asked the council what would happen if a deer was injured by an arrow and ran into someone’s backyard.
Smith responded by saying it was true that an injured deer would likely leave the small hunting zone where it was struck. He said the hunter would be obligated to track the deer until retrieving it. Harvey said it may require another person to get in a pickup truck and drive through town to retrieve the deer.
Smith said it was unlikely a wounded deer would run into someone’s backyard since deer generally run toward the thickest cover they can find, which would be away from town.
Resident Susan Chapin said she hoped the council would consider the nonlethal alternatives discussed such as scarecrows and mountain lion urine. She added that many pet owners think their dogs or cats have souls. She believed many more animals than that have souls, including deer.
Resident Michiel Boender said deer eat everything he plants in his garden. He has to put all of his shrubs inside cages. He said he is a vegetarian and would not hunt himself, although he is in favor of this particular deer hunt because he believes the deer have overpopulated in Fairfield.
Resident Joseph Boxerman supported the use of motion sensors to scare deer away, perhaps by turning on a light or sounding a deer whistle. Harvey said she has a motion-activated light in her backyard that turns on when deer come on her lawn. She said it has no effect on the deer and that her neighbor has asked her to turn it off because it is distracting when she’s trying to sleep.
Resident Mark Bell said he owns a scarecrow that sprays water at moving objects. He said it works like a charm, but the scarecrow does not discriminate. It sprays the dog, the neighbor and the owner.
“You have to turn it off when you let your animal out or you mow your lawn,” he said. “If you forget to turn it back on, the next morning your garden will be gone.”
Fairfield Parks and Recreation director Derik Wulfekuhle suggested the ordinance be amended so that O.B. Nelson Park and the dog park are closed the two weekends of the hunt. The council included that revision when it voted to approve the first reading of the ordinance.