Group seeks OK to hunt in Orange towns

CorrespondentOctober 1, 2011 

— A local political group wants Carrboro and Hillsborough leaders to allow hunting next year within town limits to reduce the number of deer roaming Orange County's more urban neighborhoods.

Matt Hughes, first vice chairman of the Orange County Democratic Party, sent both towns a resolution in August from the group's executive committee advocating for an Urban Archery Program on public and owner-approved private lands. The state has scheduled next year's Urban Archery hunts from Jan. 14 to Feb. 18.

According to the resolution, the goal is to cut the number of deer to about 10 per square mile. The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission estimates Orange County now has about three times that number - roughly 24 to 35 deer per square mile.

The resolution also asks Chapel Hill officials to work with the university to organize bow hunting on UNC-owned land in rural areas of the county, and asks all three towns to discourage residents from feeding deer.

Hughes said the group issued the resolution to highlight concerns from some residents about the effect that increasing numbers of deer is having on public health, back yards and traffic safety. It's more than just deer being a nuisance, he said.

"Some people may see it as support for hunting, but the root of it is to give residents a way to reduce the risk of large urban [deer] populations," Hughes said.

At least 20 N.C. municipalities, including Pittsboro and Smithfield, are taking part in next year's Urban Archery Program. Chapel Hill's Town Council received but did not act on a petition in February asking for a deer-reduction policy. Some residents, particularly in the Governors Club community in Chatham County, have authorized their own hunts with bows and arrows on private land.

It is illegal in most towns to discharge a firearm.

Both Carrboro's interim Town Manager Matt Efird and Hillsborough Mayor Tom Stevens said their governing boards will listen to public comment and consider the issue this fall. Efird said town staff is researching the issue now, and the Board of Aldermen expects to take up the discussion in October.

Wildlife reports show hunters statewide harvested roughly 175,000 deer last year, 96 of which were bagged as part of Urban Archery programs. In Orange County, five of the 2,482 deer harvested were taken during the monthlong Urban Archery season.

State biologist George Strader, who serves Orange County, said development of urban areas limits the land available to deer and pushes out hunters who have kept them in check. There also aren't any natural predators, like bobcats and coyotes, he said.

N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission state biologist Evan Stanford agreed, but said recent shifts in urban development policies to preserve green spaces and naturally wooded areas is making urban habitats more inviting again.

Residents add to the problem when they feed deer, Stanford said. An abundance of food can bring too many deer into one area, where diseases can spread more easily and it creates an ideal reproductive situation, he said. Plus, when deer lose their fear of humans, they wander closer to homes, where they destroy landscaping and gardens, or into traffic, he said.

Burgeoning deer populations are a significant risk to public health, because they carry ticks that can transmit Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis and Southern Tick-Associated Rash Illness, or STARI, officials said.

Urban Archery Programs give property owners and towns another opportunity to reduce their deer populations and are held outside of the regular season, because there's a better chance of recruiting hunters, Strader said.

The traditional deer hunting season runs from Sept. 10 to Jan. 2 this year; firearms are only allowed after Oct. 29.

The state only requires hunters to be licensed and report their harvests, although municipalities can set additional rules, Strader said.

Concerns about safety and about hunting in general can divide urban residents, officials said. Many fear someone will be hurt if hunting is allowed in urban areas, Stanford said, but Urban Archery programs usually attract experienced hunters who shoot from several feet off the ground and at ranges of up to roughly 20 feet.

From that perspective, he said, it's clear what you're aiming at - whether it's a deer or a human - and there have been no reported deaths from bow hunting in North Carolina.

"A lot of individuals have the perception that archery hunting or any type of hunting is unsafe," he said. "That's not the case at all."

tammy.grubb1@yahoo.com or 336-380-1325

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