Before culling deer, what River Forest should learn

Opinion: Columns

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By Tim Brandhorst

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The Forest Preserve has prepared the paperwork to kill as many as 50 Thatcher Woods deer this winter. Before we start shooting, River Forest's village board would do well to explain to the community why culling is the best alternative.

Maybe culling is the right solution. Maybe not. Right now, it's a solution in search of a clearly-articulated problem. At the board's Dec. 9 meeting, each trustee seemed to define the problem differently.

Is there a deer-related public safety problem? Some trustees say yes. But the five-year history of deer-related car accidents leads to the opposite conclusion. We've experienced half as many deer accidents this year (four) as we did last year (eight), and the lowest number in the past three years.

Is there a deer-related public health problem? Similarly, some trustees would answer yes, linking the Thatcher Woods deer to Lyme disease. But no expert testimony or scientific literature has been presented that supports this link or establishes causation.

Is there a deer-related "enjoyment of private property" problem? Some trustees are persuaded that the most important factor is the right to enjoy one's private property, free of unwanted wildlife — perhaps believing that property owners will stop complaining if culling occurs. But so long as any wildlife remains in Thatcher Woods, we are likely to see it in our gardens and yards.

Not only is there no consensus on the problem. There's also a lot of information we don't know, but should. How many deer are in Thatcher Woods? No count has been performed, so how can we be sure there are more than 50? If we eliminate the herd, would we reduce the spread of Lyme disease? Would deer migrate from the north and south to fill the void? Is culling the best alternative? What has been the experience of surrounding communities who cull their herds, and have any implemented better solutions?

The trustees could answer these questions via a proposed resident task force. Some trustees seem skeptical that a task force could be useful, but our community has recent experience with using a resident task force to successfully address a contentious issue: next June, OPRF breaks ground on its first major facilities upgrade in 50 years, following the work of the Imagine OPRF volunteers. Given specific marching orders and an aggressive timeline, such a task force could gather facts and evidence, aggregate research, and bring recommendations back to the board by spring.

Articulate the problem. Enlist residents to gather the missing information needed to support a rational decision. Both of these steps will lead to a better decision, and a better chance of persuading residents.

Tim Brandhorst is a River Forest resident.  

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