River Forest forming advisory task force to settle deer issue

Residents debate health worries vs. 'barbarity' of sharpshooters

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By Igor Studenkov

Contributing Reporter

River Forest's plan to pay the Cook County forest preserve district to hire sharpshooters to cull a growing deer population were put on hold pending creation of a task force to study all aspects of the complex issue. 

Residents arguing both for and against the culling solution turned out Nov. 25 at a village board meeting. A number of residents came out to strongly oppose the idea -- while a smaller, but just as vocal contingent urged the village to go through with it.

Opponents said having wildlife walk through their backyards was part of River Forest's charm, and said they were horrified at the idea of their tax dollars being used to kill deer. But proponents argued that it was a matter of public health -- their loved ones were hurt by Lyme disease. 

After a long discussion, the village board agreed to postpone the vote for the time being and let the opponents and supporters set up a task force to come up with recommendations on how the village should proceed. The details of what that task force would look like and what would be the timetable wasn't determined by deadline.

As previously reported by the Journal, 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 Forest Preserve district have been discussing the possibility of expanding the existing deer culling program to the three forest preserves that are located in River Forest -- Thatcher Woods, G.A.R. Woods and Thomas Jefferson Woods. The Forest Preserve 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 Nov. 25 meeting, John Roeger argued the discussion of what to do about deer doesn't really touch on what he saw as the most important issue -- the impact of deer on health. Deer get ticks, which can carry Lyme Disease.  And that, Roeger said, can become a problem when deer are in people's yards,

"Guess who are in those yards -- our children," he said. "They're playing [in] those yards. This is where our children pick up tick bites."

Roeger said he wasn't speaking hypothetically -- his own daughter contracted Lyme Disease. "Ticks have stolen the childhood of my daughter," Roeger said. "Absolutely taken it away. And we absolutely know of people who experienced anxiety, brain fog, and they can't get a clear diagnosis."

Gigi Hoke said her college-aged stepson and her now-9-year old son have Lyme Disease as well, and while she conceded that the evidence that the deer are causing it may be anecdotal, she argued that it was too much of a risk.

David Franek took a different tact, arguing that there are simply too many deer for the land to handle.

"We're seeking, simply, a reasonable control of deer population," he said. "It exceeded what is naturally [supported] in the area."

Mary Vanker, argued that the village should look into less lethal solutions, such as planting "deer-resistant" plants in yards. And she argued that the link between the deer and the Lyme Disease hasn't been conclusively established.

"I'm not aware of any evidence that the culling of 50 deer in Thatcher Woods is going to reduce that risk," Vanker said. 

Marta Kosbur, who lived in River Forest for 37 years, was one of several residents who argued that using sharpshooters was going too far. 

"Respectfully I'd [ask] you to postpone the decision on culling deer in such a barbaric way," she said. "Isn't there enough violence in our world today? Can't we come up with a better solution?"

Keary Cragan admitted she had complex feelings about the issue. Deer and rodents ruined her garden many times, and she hasn't hesitated to chase deer out of her garden. But that doesn't mean she wants them killed, if nothing else because, she argued, there wasn't any data to support it. If anything, Cragan said, the data suggests that rising water levels of the Desplaines River are pushing the deer into the nearby suburbs. 

Several trustees expressed concerns about how the Forest Preserve determined that there is overpopulation and whether sharpshooting was the best solution. 

"I do feel like we needed more data points, we're absolutely going to need benchmarks to determine that it's going to be effective," Trustee Patty Henek said.

Trustee Katie Brennan said she would be in favor of putting together a taskforce to study the issue in more detail. 

Trustee Erika Bachner said that, if the village was going to enter into an agreement to allow the culling, it should have more data to justify it.

After some further back and forth, Vanker suggested that the task force would be a good idea, saying that she would be willing to work with Hoke to come up with a solution that works for everyone -- something that Hoke readily supported. 

Village President Catherine Adduci felt there was already enough data, but she and the trustees ultimately agreed to postpone the decision and let residents set up the taskforce.

"We'll step back from it, we'll reflect, and I'm going to bring it back, so that trustees can give direction to the staff," Adduci said.

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Reader Comments

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Comment Policy

Ivan Da Silva  

Posted: December 5th, 2019 5:17 PM

We should not blame the deers for the cases of Lyme disease. Also, the article mentions people with "brain fog, anxiety for no reason" and suggest it can be connected to Lyme. First of all, there is no such thing as "chronic Lyme" as some quacks promote out there (I am a physician). Also, no evidence that this species is associated with the cycle of the bacteria that causes Lyme (real Lyme, not the quackery).

Linda Fairbanks  

Posted: December 4th, 2019 5:36 PM

Prey NEEDS predators to remain healthy. Deer having virtually no natural predators in the suburbs, shooting them is the kindest, quickest way to kill off the surplus. Overpopulation harms the deer as well as the humans. Overcrowded animals die from starvation and diseases are more easily transmitted. One such disease is Chronic Wasting Disease, an incurable illness akin to Mad Cow Disease. It spreads quite readily to other deer-like species through urine, feces and other bodily fluids. Overcrowding in the habitat is going to bring healthy animals in closer contact with both waste and other infected animals. Thinning the herd might help slow the spread of a horrible death for the deer and possibly for other creatures as well. Wild animals and birds and roaming pets feed off of dead deer. Hunters bring home venison. While human transmission has not yet been proven, this is a prion disease, and many other diseases of that type ARE transmissible to humans as well as other species. Let's help deer and ourselves and keep their numbers in check.

Tommy McCoy  

Posted: December 4th, 2019 5:32 PM

Kathy Müller The Deer having been roaming for decades. Animals spend their time always in search of food. If unfortunately hunter's are brought in, then residents should clear the area as a safety precaution

Kathy Müller from River Forest  

Posted: December 4th, 2019 3:24 PM

Least violent solution: Issue tickets to the RF residents who are feeding the deer and luring them out of the woods. The deer cross my yard, eat their meal, then use my yard as a bathroom on the way back into the woods. The feeding went up and - surprise - the number of deer went up, too. And now we want to kill them? Seems more humane - and, really, more fair - to get rid of the human-provided food. Issuing tickets might be an effective deterrent.

Tommy McCoy  

Posted: December 4th, 2019 11:38 AM

I did not know what culling was so I checked it out. It means reduction of a wild animal population by selective slaughter. So instead of using a nice way of saying it, just use what some people really want others to do for them instead of taking other possible approaches

Sean McNamara from Redding, CT  

Posted: December 4th, 2019 11:09 AM

There is a non-lethal option for protecting deer browse damage to landscaping near the park. Contact Bartlett Tree about how DeerPro Winter Animal Repellent can stop deer damage to ornamentals both inside and outside the park.

Bob Larson  

Posted: December 4th, 2019 8:53 AM

I'm sorry. The meeting was June 24th! Time flies!!! A video of the presentation at the meeting is on the RF Village website. https://vrf.us/news/item/227

Bob Larson  

Posted: December 4th, 2019 8:48 AM

I went to the 1st meeting re: the deer issue that was held in, September or October. At that meeting the health fear issues re: the deer in Thatcher Woods was barely mentioned. In fact, a man from the IL DNR made a presentation and indicated that there was no evidence of ticks infested with Lyme disease were in Thatcher Woods. The overwhelming complaints in that meeting were deer eating ornamental foliage in the neighborhood along Thatcher Road. People in attendance wanted the deer population reduced by any measure. There are a lot of deer in Thatcher Woods & culling them may be reasonable. However, culling them will not prevent the remaining deer from entering the neighborhood and eating the available vegetation.

Tommy McCoy  

Posted: December 3rd, 2019 7:29 PM

If Lyme disease is your concern then get informed and find out you are not going to solve the problem doing it this way. Most people like to check things out on the website to become more informed so here is some thing people should read if they think by removing the Deer, is the answer to removing Lyme disease. You are believing some thing that is false. Here is the link www.humanesociety.org/resources/lyme-disease

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