Following nearly three hours of resident comment and village officials’ discussion, the River Forest Village Board, Jan. 13, decided not to proceed with a plan to address deer overpopulation through a culling contract with the Forest Preserve District of Cook County.
Instead, the board agreed to create a resident task force to study the issue and make recommendations by Sept. 30. Trustee Patty Henek will lead the process of forming the task force. She hopes to have applications created and available online by the end of January.
Two trustees suggested models to follow, with Katie Brennan citing guidelines available through a Cornell University study and Respicio Vazquez recommending a similar task force effort in District 200. Vazquez acknowledged the D200 effort was “time-consuming.” He also stressed the importance of having equal representation on the task force of residents advocating a deer-culling program and those opposed.
Henek noted the task force is likely to be ongoing, leading Trustee Erika Bachner to suggest the application include reference to a multi-year commitment.
Several trustees expressed hope for participation by Tim Preuss, urban deer project manager with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, who attended a village meeting in June on deer overpopulation affecting River Forest.
The path leading to the Jan. 13 actions was circuitous.
Officials were originally set to vote on a deer-culling contract in November but when a large group of residents from both sides of the issue came out, 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 in December to vote on the culling agreement in January, while still working to form the task force.
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, an amount that might decrease if River Forest entered an agreement with Elmwood Park to share the expense of the deer-culling program if it were expanded to include Forest Preserve District property within Elmwood Park boundaries, which are adjacent to the north of River Forest. Under that proposed agreement, as outlined in a Jan. 9 memo from Village Administrator Eric Palm to the village board, Elmwood Park would contribute up to $10,000 annually.
The majority of the 18 residents who addressed the village board during the resident comment portion of the Jan. 13 meeting opposed signing the intergovernmental agreement with the Forest Preserve District, but others offered support for the culling program. Resident comments ran well over an hour.
The main reason for opposing the culling program was a lack of qualified information, which many residents said would be addressed by forming the task force. Surveying residents was suggested by several speakers.
Several speakers expressed concerns about Lyme disease, which can be caused by ticks carried by deer and other animals.
“This is a health and safety issue,” Village President Cathy Adduci said in advocating tabling a vote on the proposed intergovernmental agreement. “We want to solve this problem and get it right.
“We either start culling and create a task force or delay culling to study the issue.”
During the discussion that followed the resident comment period, which also ran well over an hour, several trustees expressed frustration with the lack of information in the proposed intergovernmental agreement, specifically a work plan and determining the number of deer to be culled.
“We want to review the work plan,” Trustee Robert O’Connell said.
Trustee Tom Cargie questioned whether Forest Preserve District officials would have sufficient time to create and implement a work plan by the end of March, which is the end of the time period when deer culling typically takes place.
“I don’t see how they can do it,” he said.
In the end, Adduci cited “too many questions and confusion” in supporting creation of the task force and deciding against voting on the proposed intergovernmental agreement.
She also suggested that the task force address the health issues, especially the Lyme disease risk, and recommend landscaping alternatives for residents whose property is close to the forest preserves.