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.
Answer Book 2019
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