About 20 years ago the city of Bismarck, working with the State Game and Fish Department, developed an urban archery hunt to help control a growing deer population within the city limits. Two decades later, the deer population is much lower, reports of human-deer conflicts are reduced, and very few problems have been documented.
Recently, Fargo city officials also adopted an ordinance which drew on experiences of Bismarck and other municipalities across the United States that have used archery hunts to reduce urban deer numbers. Grand Forks city leaders have begun looking at limiting recreational wildlife feeding as a first step to reduce incidents of negative human-wildlife interaction.
Measures such as these will likely become more frequently considered as humans continue to develop residences in what was previously a rural or undeveloped area, especially wooded river bottoms. In addition, deer and other wildlife, as long as they are not threatened, often adjust to human presence in their living space.
When deer populations in areas like city fringes and parks become such that residents frequently express safety concerns or complain about raided gardens, city officials often look to the Game and Fish Department for help. In the country, allowing more licenses in an area, or recruiting more hunters, is the fastest and cheapest solution. However, hunting with either bow or gun within city limits is typically not allowed, and ordinances to create special hunting seasons are often met with at least some resistance.
Those few skeptics commonly ask about other means of controlling the deer herd, such as trapping and relocating deer, or tranquilizing them with a dart gunâ and moving them to the country. On the surface these options seem reasonable, but they are best used for moving single or just a few animals from areas where they are out of place.
The cost of trapping and relocating urban deer is high and is borne by the citizens and taxpayers. In a day and time where any funding with taxpayer money is scrutinized, certainly this option is met with strong opposition.
The darting option involves injecting controlled drugs into a deer via a dart fired by a special gun. The considerations for this option include a deer that isn't completely subdued and makes it back into the population; the deer being consumed by other hunters or nontarget species before the drug leaves its system; or the dart missing the deer and winding up lost in a back yard where someone could step on it.
Another option is sharpshooters with silenced rifles taking out as many deer as possible. Even with highly trained shooters, safety is an issue in residential areas and the cost is excessive, so this option isn't even in the mix in most instances.
Which leaves hunting with a bow. Initially, some people have safety concerns about bowhunting as well, but with hunters elevated in a tree stand, arrows are directly downward. Shots are usually taken at extremely close ranges and an arrow off the mark most often sticks a few inches into the ground, allowing the hunter to easily find and retrieve it.
Bowhunting, when it is allowed through special ordinance, doesn't cost the taxpayers much because hunters buy licenses and do all the work. The regulations in Bismarck, and those that will apply in Fargo, allow taking of antlerless deer only, so population control is targeted. Attendance at a special training course for the Fargo season is also required, which addresses safety concerns.
An unhunted deer population with adequate habitat and food can double in size about every two years. At come point, action to control the population growth is necessary. Within city limits, bowhunting is a safe and economical means to address our human expansion into the wild.
Is it perfect? No, but very few solutions to anything in life ever are or will be. We do the best we can with the tools we have, and hunting remains a primary tool in the shed of wildlife population management.
Leier is a biologist. He can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org