2009-05-07 / Sports

Meeting to help determine outcome of deer at For-Mar

By Lisa Paine
VIEW Sports Editor

GENESEE COUNTY — An abundance of deer, damaged native plants and how to reconcile the two are the main topics of a continuing open public discussion as the Genesee County Parks Commission wrestles with how best to manage its growing deer herd.

The second of two public meetings on May 14 will hopefully satisfy all sides concerned as neighbors to the For-Mar Nature Preserve sit on both sides of the issue with some wanting first crack at the deer, while others are crying out against the managed hunt altogether.

“It’s not hunting versus no hunting, it’s about maintaining bio-diversity of the park system and keeping those in balance,” said parks director Amy McMillan. “This is something we have taken a considerable amount of criticism about as far as the amount of time we have taken. But we are not dragging our feet. We are taking this responsibility very seriously by going to informational workshops, and we have met with state officials across the state. These are not knee-jerk reactions, and the commission has always committed to making objective data-based decisions.”

The idea to allow a managed hunt in any of the Genesee County Parks properties first was suggested nearly two years ago when hunters inquired about extending hunting rights into the Hogbacks area of the Holloway Reservoir Regional Park. For-Mar became part of the mix after aerial surveys showed an ever-growing deer herd and extensive damage to native plants within the nature preserve.

“It’s been a very respectful sharing of information and views between the public and the Parks Commission,” said McMillan. “We’ve done a study on the deer populations in Genesee County, and For-Mar has had the heaviest impact as far as damage to the area and is the most out of balance to number of deer.”

The 380-acre For-Mar has large open areas that border the preserve, so the deer move in and out of the park, McMillan explained. He added that 20 deer per square mile is the park’s management goal, and currently it has 35.

“This is about our responsibility to be effective stewards of the park property. The goal is to balance needs of people, plants, and animals together to promote the ecosystem,” McMillan explained. “Personal feelings have to be set aside to figure out how best to meet our three areas of responsibility in the most humane, cost-effective manner.”

Other methods such as relocating deer are not legal after the state prohibited such movement last year in its efforts to control the spread of chronic wasting disease and bovine tuberculosis. Birth control, which would cost roughly $1,000 per deer, was deemed too costly to already cash-strapped coffers and too traumatic for the deer, which often suffer neurological complications — including death — from the sedation, McMillan added.

McMillan also emphasized that the Parks Commission won’t make a decision until August, however, strict guidelines and pre-qualification will be required for hunters, who will be chosen by lottery after proving their skills at hitting an 8-inch target at 25 yards with a bow and arrow. The bow-only hunt would take place throughout October on Mondays and Tuesdays when For-Mar is normally closed.

Genesee County hunters, age 14 and older, would be selected via lottery, and if the managed hunt does not reach 20 deer, sharpshooters could be brought into the park in February to reduce the herd to manageable levels.

The meeting takes place at 11 a.m. Thursday, May 14, at Harris Auditorium in the Genesee County Administration Building, 1101 Beach St., Flint. Each attendee gets three minutes to speak, and the public also can submit comments in writing to be part of the record of the meeting, McMillan added.

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