Less than a month after River Forest Board of Trustees agreed to allow residents to form the task force to discuss the best way to address deer overpopulation, the village is moving forward with a deer culling contract — though it still intends to form a task force.
The village board was originally set to vote on a deer culling contract in November. But when a large group of residents came out to protest — even as a smaller, but equally passionate group urged the trustees to proceed — the board agreed to suspend the vote.
While they agreed to form the task force, they postponed the discussion of any specifics until a later date.
At the time, it was understood that there would be no further vote until the task force had a chance to consider the issue. But after a prolonged discussion, a majority of the board agreed on Dec. 9 to vote on the culling agreement in January 2020, while still working to form the task force.
The task force’s mandate would be somewhat different. It would be tasked with coming up with other ways to address the deer issue. The majority of trustees agreed that there was nothing wrong with trying to approach the problem from multiple fronts.
In recent years, deer sightings have been on the rise, and the village has been getting an increasing number of complaints about landscaping damage, tick-borne diseases, and deer droppings in resident yards.
River Forest and the Cook County Forest Preserve District have been discussing the possibility of expanding the existing deer-culling program to the three forest preserves in River Forest — Thatcher Woods, G.A.R. Woods and Thomas Jefferson Woods. The Forest Preserve District contracts sharpshooters to go into the woods and kill the deer. The proposed contract called for the village to pay up to $40,000 a year.
During the village board’s Nov. 25 meeting, opponents argued that shooting deer was a step too far, arguing that deer should either be left alone or that the village should spend its money on a more humane alternative.
Supporters of the agreement, on the other hand, argued that deer posed a health hazard, with deer ticks potentially carrying Lyme disease, which at least two River Forest families reportedly have had to deal with already.
Village President Catherine Adduci argued that there was room to pursue both culling and other ways to address the issue.
“Advising residents, deer-resistant food — all those are great ideas and they all should be implemented,” she said. “I don’t see one over the other.”
And Adduci urged the board to support the culling.
“It’s our job, as elected officials, to ensure the health and safety of our community,” she said. “We weigh opinions back and forth and we govern.”
Trustee Thomas Cargie argued against the task force, since he didn’t believe that people who were coming from the issue from different perspectives would be able to compromise. He also wondered whether there was any fair way to ensure that both sides were represented equally.
Trustee Katie Brennan, who expressed support for the task force during the Nov. 25 meeting, felt that the fact that residents were willing to put it together in the first place showed that it could work.
“I think residents that have different opinions are engaged residents who want to work together,” she said. “And we have ground rules for those who volunteer to be on task force, so we can agree without being disagreeable.”
Trustee Robert O’Connell and a few others felt that the Forest Preserve District of Cook County officials didn’t provide enough data to justify the advice that culling was the best solution. Having that information in front of him, O’Connell said, would make him more comfortable voting on the culling contract.
While Brennan argued that the board shouldn’t take any votes until the task force had a chance to discuss the issue, as the discussion continued, the rest of the board agreed to pursue both the culling and the formation of the task force.