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Published: Sunday, 9/13/2009

Look to Ottawa Hills to deal with deer glut

Toledo and surrounding communities would do well to follow the leader of tiny Ottawa Hills, which has taken the buck by the horns and decided to manage its out-of-control deer herd.

Urban deer have been a growing problem from coast to coast in this country for decades for obvious reasons. Hunting, the primary and necessary tool for managing these prolific wild quadrupeds in rural areas, simply is not a wise option in heavily residential areas.

The safety factor, of course, is tantamount. Even though hunters demonstrably are safe and mishaps are the rare exception, not the rule, hunting needs elbow room. Plus, hunting is bloody in the end.

Hunters choose to accept that reality, but the public at large rather would have the sanitized, blister-packed result. So be it.

A trial hunt in Perrysburg in 1998 was a public relations nightmare. The experiment also likely cooled the jets of any politicians locally who may have had similar leanings. Which leaves hiring trained snipers, working quietly and cleaning up the carcasses out of public purview. Fertility control in wild herds doesn't work.

Commercial sniping of deer is a tried-and-true tactic that has been employed in countless communities across the country. It is not cheap. Ottawa Hills expects to pay up to 30 grand to kill up to 50 deer. But the village should be credited for tackling this issue head on, which is something that other communities and the Metroparks have not done.

Too many deer are a problem through the greater Toledo area. Ask residents along Swan Creek, around Toledo Country Club, around Wildwood and Side Cut and Swan Creek metroparks, in Maumee, Perrysburg, Sylvania — the list goes on.

Of all the existing urban deer havens, perhaps the Audubon Islands preserve in the lower Maumee River, managed by the Metroparks, is the sole exception where, say, archery hunting could be conducted quietly with an eye to the issues of safety and taste.

Time and again the deer issue has come up in local councils — whenever a group of neighbors gets fed up with Bambi consuming petunias. The Metroparks may be the worst offender for doing nothing.

It has known about deer problems and documented deer damage to its own plant communities for years. Time and again its administrators have initiated studies, shoved the results around the table of political correctness, and sat on their hands and pretended that so doing will make the problem go away. Excuses have ranged from such delaying tactics as, well, the administration has changed [this from two administrations ago, in fact] and the new folks need to get “on board” with it, to such lame excuses as it needs more study. Well, there is that all-important levy to protect for the next vote.

In the meantime, the deer are doing what deer do — eating [any of more than 400 varieties of plants, actually] and procreating [with good food and moderate climate and no predators, a herd increases 30 to 35 percent per year.] At the same time, people are doing dumb things like hand-feeding some of these wild creatures, acclimating them, decreasing their natural wariness, and sowing the seeds for disaster.

Some day a child will want to feed Bambi [the public ignores signs to the contrary], with the blessing of his or her ignorant parents. Bambi's mother will try to protect Bambi and lash out with her hooves and injure or kill the child. Or maybe a rutting, heavily antlered buck — which has no sense, no fear, and is nothing but sexually aggressive come November — will gore someone on a park trail.

Or someone will die when a deer leaps through the windshield of an automobile.

When any of that happens — it's a matter of time — count on the heavens to open with public uproar and all of a sudden thousands of dollars and teams of experts will be available to solve the “crisis.” That's the way politics works in this fair land — long-term, critical thinking and subsequent straightforward action are ignored till too late, and we are stuck with knee-jerk reactions to crises. Makes the job easy for politicians; they then can be public saviors.

Over the years the outdoors desk has heard from countless folks in Maumee, Toledo, and elsewhere many times about the deer problem and the lack of action by local governments. Until Ottawa Hills.

The experience of Bill Buri, of Maumee, is representative. Last December he e-mailed thusly:

“It's too bad some of the 178,000-plus deer harvest [hunting season statewide] didn't take place along the Maumee River in Maumee. My backyard is part of the floodplain that backs up to Side Cut Park and I can walk out and find as many as 20 deer grazing there at any time. By the end of winter they look like they have gone on a Bataan [Death] March ... I'm all for nature. I don't cut my field on the plain and am trying to reintroduce native species out there. I thrill at the sight of a red fox running through my field. I feel that we have mismanaged the deer population in urban areas and we are not doing them any good.”

I checked back with Buri last week to see if he changed his mind. Nope, not a bit.

“There are way too many deer for the habitat,” he begins. Having so many does the deer no justice, he contends, and it is important not only to have a healthy, right-sized deer population but also healthy populations of plant communities.

“The sooner that people realize that they are doing detriment to the deer by allowing their population to grow, the sooner things will get better.”

Amen to that. But remember: This issue could have been dealt with across the region 10, 15 years ago, when the problem was obvious but much smaller [fewer deer to cull] and less expensive to deal with. It was absolutely unnecessary to reinvent the wheel on this one.

All the tools and all the necessary knowledge have been at hand all along. The only thing lacking has been community, institutional, and political will to make it so. Until Ottawa Hills.

Contact Steve Pollick at:spollick@theblade.com or 419-724-6068.



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