The Toledo area's first organized killing of suburban deer since 1998 passed a crucial hurdle Monday night.
By a 4-2 vote, the Ottawa Hills Village Council approved an exemption to a 1940 ordinance that has banned firearms from being discharged in the village.
In so doing, council is now able to negotiate with White Buffalo Inc., the Connecticut-based firm with which it has informally discussed the possibility of selectively killing, or culling, up to 50 deer in the village.
The council is not limited to White Buffalo, but officials have said they know of no other firms that deploy sharpshooters for such work.
Councilman Jim Walter, chair-
man of the services and environment committee that proposed the kills, said he has been impressed by what he has heard from other communities that have hired White Buffalo for deer culls.
The vote was taken after more than 40 residents voiced their thoughts about the plan at a meeting that drew 350 people.
The meeting, which lasted nearly three hours, had been moved earlier and finally was held inside Ottawa Hills Elementary School because of the anticipated turnout.
Numerous signs in opposition to the cull were displayed, one equating the killing of deer to the killing of babies and another saying simply that "God Is Watching."
Ottawa Hills Mayor Kevin Gilmore implored residents to stay calm and keep their emotions in check.
Although most of them did, many said this has become an issue that sharply divides the affluent village of 3,000 residents.
Richard Hylant, an Ottawa Hills resident who is a state trustee for the Nature Conservancy, noted how state wildlife biologists recommend no more than 20 deer per square mile in a residential area.
Ottawa Hills is believed to have 104 deer now, based on the results of an aerial survey that was done in January. That figure assumes the existing herd grows by about 30 percent a year, Marc Thompson, village manager, said.
"It is up to us as human beings to take responsibility for this issue," resident Margy Trumbull said.
Among those urging the council to pass the exemption and pursue the cull was Stacey Kripke, whose house's picture window was shattered by a deer about four years ago. The animal's blood ended up on her furniture, she said.
She was one of several people who raised the possibility of injury or death caused by deer.
Several people said such claims were exaggerated and questioned the possibility of paying $30,000 to White Buffalo to do the cull.
Longtime resident Cathy Grup said that $30,000 could be better spent as a donation to area food banks.
"It's clear to me this is a divisive issue," said Councilman Rex Decker, one of two who voted against the measure. "It's clear to me we could not have a successful cull with our community divided like this."
The other councilman who voted in opposition, Norma King, said options such as better fencing and a wider use of repellents should be explored first.
The four who voted in favor were Mr. Walter, Robert Reichert, John Straub, and Jeffrey Gibbs.
If Ottawa Hills follows through with the kills, they probably would take place in February or March, officials have said.
It would be the region's first attempt at a cull of deer since Perrysburg tried an experimental, controlled hunt in 1998.
That was widely cited as a public relations flop.
Opponents managed to disrupt it so much that Perrysburg called it off after only two does were taken. Perrysburg's goal back then was to remove six deer.
Opponents claim the deer problem has been blown out of proportion and that the kill would be a waste of tax dollars.
White Buffalo's co-founder and president, Anthony DeNicola, has said culling needs to be done over several years to be effective.
He said he is not interested in negotiating with any community that just wants a one-time cull.
Mr. Thompson has said the village probably would negotiate a two-year contract. But he said it would want an option to get out of the second year of any such agreement if the first year doesn't go as expected.
Meat from any cull would be salvaged for food pantries by an outreach ministry known as Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry, Mr. Thompson has said.
An online petition that opponents have generated can be accessed off the Web site or by going to http://sites.google.com/site/villagedeer/petition.
It had nearly 350 entries last night.
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