Why suspend successful sharpshooting program?
The Illinois Department of Natural Resources recently issued a news release that really made me scratch my head in wonder, especially in light of the way I have defended its deer herd management program that has been in place to try to limit the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease.
The news release read: “IDNR is examining its deer management program to determine if modifications are needed to hunting seasons and regulations – and to the effort focused in select northern Illinois counties to reduce the deer population and limit the spread of chronic wasting disease in the Illinois deer herd.
“The review of Illinois’ deer management program is a follow up to implementation of a series of recommendations made in 2008 by the state’s Joint Legislative Task Force on Deer Population Control. Among the task force recommendations was a statewide 14 percent reduction in the deer herd (as indicated by the rate of deer/vehicle accidents), with specific county goals identified. IDNR expanded the Late-Winter Deer Season and made available additional permits in some counties beginning in 2009 to encourage hunters to harvest additional surplus deer. The statewide accident rate is very close to the identified goal, although some counties still remain higher than desired.
“The IDNR also expanded the Special Chronic Wasting Disease Deer Season in 2009 as part of the program begun in 2002 for surveillance and targeted herd reduction in counties where CWD had been identified.
“CWD is a disease that afflicts deer by causing a degeneration of the nervous system, and fatal infections can be passed by close contact among deer. Since 2004, IDNR has supplemented hunter harvest by using department sharpshooters each winter to reduce deer densities in known CWD hotspots in northern Illinois counties. This management approach has suppressed the rate of CWD infection in deer at very low levels. While the sharpshooting program is effective, budget reductions over the past decade is compelling the department to explore alternative means of reducing deer herd density in CWD counties, including changes in hunting programs, assisting local landowning agencies in their own deer herd reduction programs, and working with local hunters to increase their deer harvest on private lands.
“IDNR will be conducting an analysis of both programs during the coming months and will provide opportunity for public comment on management goals.”
Well, if the sharpshooter program has been as successful as I had been made to believe by the IDNR, then why stop it? Our CWD numbers are quite good in comparison to neighboring states that do not have a program such as Illinois does.
Also, why does it mention the information about the Task Force on Deer Population Control? This panel was disbanded four years ago and took place under a completely separate administration.
I recently had a private discussion with an individual who is high in the hierarchy of the IDNR. He was able to enlighten me on a couple of things.
First of all, by eliminating the sharpshooter program, the state would be able to save a lot of money. It might not seem like much to bureaucrats, but a cool half-million bucks is serious coin to me.
Yet, even though the state is close to broke and every cut helps the bottom line, is it worth risking the health of our whitetail herd to CWD? Remember, the dollars brought into Illinois by out-of-state hunters easily dwarfs the money saved by suspending the program. Why would we want to risk that end result?
I think this entire topic of thinning the herd to save the deer from CWD has become such a hot-button issue that the IDNR is taking a break from the program to let the controversy cool down.
It’s not just at the state level where there are complaints and protests over the sharpshooter program. City, town and village board meetings have been flooded with avid hunters who want the program to end in the jurisdiction that the local government is responsible for. Forest Preserve District commissioners didn’t realize they’d have to face hordes of camo-clad hunters when they accepted their board positions.
I told you about the Rutland meeting that I attended earlier this year. It was very organized and the people in attendance were well behaved. There have been other meetings between the citizenry and the IDNR and/or groups of elected officials where things did not transpire so calmly.
I have heard reports of IDNR employees and local elected officials being harassed by people who are angry over the way in which the management program is carried out. It would be an awful shame if someone was to be hurt by protesters. It would really put our sport in a bad light.
My IDNR source told me there was concern over possible vigilante action and that state equipment had been vandalized and state employees threatened.
I understand what the IDNR’s motives are on this issue and why it was announced in the way it was in its news release.
What happens with CWD control if the current program is dropped? My source said the department no longer would be able to use “a scalpel” to correct the problem. Instead of eliminating some deer in selected very small areas, it probably would have to issue hunter quotas by county instead.
The really important part of the release is, “[IDNR] will provide opportunity for public comment on management goals.” This is your chance, folks. I know from the correspondence that I receive that the deer management issue is extremely important to most of us. It is far more important that you make it a point to attend these meetings when the dates are announced than it is to write to me or the editor.
You are going to have a shot at making your voice heard by our public officials. Don’t let the opportunity slip away.
• Northwest Herald outdoors columnist Steve Sarley’s radio show, “The Outdoors Experience,” airs live at 5 a.m. Sundays on
AM-560. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.