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Published: Monday, 10/4/2010

Ottawa Hills voters to decide deer fate on November ballot

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

One of the more contentious issues on the Lucas County ballot Nov. 2 has nothing to do with Democrats or Republicans getting elected, but focuses on the idea of killing deer in an upscale Toledo suburb.

Issue 8 asks Ottawa Hills voters whether they will authorize the repeal of a 1940 ordinance that has banned firearms from being discharged in the village, thereby making it possible for village officials to follow through with their 2009 plan to have professional sharpshooters selectively kill as many as 50 deer.

A “yes” vote is one that favors a suspension of the ordinance for the kill, or cull, to proceed. A “no” vote is one that favors the status quo, or no hunting.

Such an action would be the Toledo-area's first organized killing of suburban deer since 1998, when an authorized hunt in Perrysburg ended prematurely because of controversy.

The Ottawa Hills debate reached a climax on Nov. 23 when a standing-room-only crowd of 350 people packed the gymnasium of the village elementary school for what turned out to be an emotional three-hour meeting marked by sign-waving, finger-pointing, and fiery talk rarely seen or heard at that quiet suburb's public gatherings.

Council voted 4-2 at that meeting to repeal the ordinance but immediately put its plans on hold after being confronted by a successful referendum drive to get the issue on the ballot.

Rob Slater, who has led opposition efforts via a Web site called villagedeer.com, told reporters Monday he still believes there is “no basis for moving forward.”

“We see it as a solution without a problem,” Mr. Slater said.

He made his comments from the backyard at the home of retired Ohio Supreme Court Justice Alice Robie Resnick, who also is against the proposed cull. Joining them were Toledo lawyer Terry Lodge and another opponent, Michael Eisenstodt.

Mr. Lodge said the outcome of the vote is binding for at least two years, meaning the village council could not choose to proceed with a kill for at least that amount of time.

Ottawa Hills Mayor Kevin Gilmore said he believes such legalities are moot. He said he is sure the council would respect the vote's outcome for years and seek other long-term options if a cull is taken off the table.

“We at village council are not into playing games,” Mr. Gilmore said. “They will listen to the will of the people.”

Mayor Gilmore said he and village councilmen are focused on safety, not the preservation of a homeowner's landscaping. He said he “wouldn't want that blood on my hands” if a deer-related accident takes someone's life inside the village limits.

Richard Hylant, who favors the proposed cull, agreed. “I am afraid somebody's going to swerve to avoid hitting a deer and kill a pedestrian or a child,” Mr. Hylant, president of the Hylant Group insurance company, said. “Someday, it's going to be a bad situation.”

Mr. Slater and Mr. Hylant were two of the four residents from the community who have been serving on a special “deer committee” empaneled by village officials to strike a compromise on the ballot language.

Both agreed the vote is likely to come down to how much the public believes a problem exists.

Cull opponents Monday pointed to the results of two informal aerial surveys performed via helicopter by a Toledo police officer, the only such counts known to have been made.

The figures of deer sighted within the village limits went down to 53 in February, 2010, from 76 in January, 2009, despite claims last year that the village deer herd was rising an average of 30 percent a year.

Village officials were so sure of that during the 2009 public meetings that they claimed the village's deer population at that time was actually more like 104 deer, later explaining that they had factored in an assumed 30 percent annual increase.

The numbers may not be a result of migratory patterns. Some biologists have said deer often stay within the same general one-mile radius for years.

Those same two aerials showed 175 and 179 deer, respectively, when areas up to a square mile of the village limits were included, according to Mr. Hylant, a state trustee for the Nature Conservancy and a hunter.

He said the village, which encompasses 2 square miles, should only have about 50 deer. Wildlife biologists consider 20 deer per square mile the threshold for residential areas, Mr. Hylant said.

Mayor Gilmore said he wasn't putting much faith in the numbers.

“All I know is, anecdotally, I can be driving home and find deer in the street. It's happened a lot more in the past year than it has in the past,” he said. “I'm looking at the safety of our residents.”

Opponents said people should consider several other options, such as more robust fencing and deer repellents to keep the animals off their land.

They said the herd's size will become even more difficult to control in the long term if a kill is authorized because of a phenomenon called the “compensatory rebound effect” — one in which nature gets a species more focused on reproduction when it is under attack.

Mr. Hylant said a cull would have the additional benefit of helping people in need.

“There could be literally thousands of pounds of meat that could go to food banks to feed hungry people in northwest Ohio,” he said.

The village has expressed an interest in working with an outreach ministry known as Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry.

Contact Tom Henry at:thenry@theblade.com or 419-724-6079.



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