By Nona Tepper
River Forest may bring a team of sharpshooters to town, with the aim of reducing the growing number of deer in the village.
Jonathan Pape, assistant to the village administrator, said River Forest has received at least 60 complaints this year about deer destruction of property, the largest number in recent years.
"People who have lived here a long time, they're used to seeing one deer in their backyard. Now they wake up on a Sunday morning and there's 12," he said.
In addition to the quantity and frequency of deer sightings becoming "a real concern," Pape said residents have also complained about landscaping damage, tick-borne diseases, and deer droppings in their yards.
"Just the fact that there's flooding in the county property, and more resources in the community for them to feed on, and a lack of predators, things like that are drawing out the population," Pape said.
The village hopes to partner with the Forest Preserves of Cook County in an Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) to approve the sharpshooter program, which would allow deer hunters to descend upon the village no earlier than Dec. 1. Officials estimated the program will cost $1,000, although Pape said he was uncertain about the final cost. The sharpshooting would be limited to forest preserve land.
A spokeswoman for the Forest Preserves of Cook County said it was still working to determine a final cost for expanding its program to three properties in River Forest, and "one of the factors the forest preserves is considering is the level of positive impact the program may have on local Forest Preserves of Cook County properties."
Timothy Preuss, urban deer project manager at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR), said the forest preserve conducts the program every year, but he has not yet received an application from the forest preserve to remove deer in River Forest.
"There's not much in the way of natural controls," Preuss said. "We don't have predators; vehicle accidents are the primary form of mortality in urban areas; there's no hunting to reduce the population numbers. Deer are obviously going to continue to reproduce and grow over time."
As part of the forest preserve's sharpshooter program, representatives from the U.S. Department of Agriculture will go through River Forest to "manage the numbers on some of their sites where they have a really high-quantity habitat, where they start to see significant damage to plant communities on their sites," Preuss said. River Forest has never been included in this program before, he noted.
In some cases, diseases help reduce the deer population in the state.
One ailment is Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD), a viral disease transmitted by gnats, which frequently occurs during hot, dry summers. Preuss said outbreaks commonly occur in southern Illinois — although "it's seen periodically in northern Illinois" — and River Forest has not had any issues with that so far this year, although outbreaks usually strike in warmer months like August or September.
"When those outbreaks happen you may hear about deer found dead in water or in areas adjacent to water," Preuss said.
The other is chronic wasting disease, which is transmitted from deer to deer and has greater potential to impact deer population. Preuss said no cases have ever been identified in Cook County.
While lack of disease may not be driving up the deer population in River Forest, Preuss said he has been receiving more complaints from residents.
"They've been starting to see more deer, especially on the western edge of their village," he said.
Because River Forest is along the Desplaines River, which experienced high water levels in the spring, Preuss said deer could have been pushed out of their natural habitat and forced to move closer to the suburbs.
"Deer in these areas really don't have large home ranges; they typically reside in less than two-tenths of a square mile," Preuss said. "So since there is no control of the deer population in River Forest or in adjacent areas, the population may just be growing through reproduction."
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