Guest Column: Bowhunting in forest preserves
By Don Ivacic
As a biologist, I support the concept of bowhunting in the forest preserves because it fulfills the very mission of the Winnebago County Forest Preserve District (WCFPD): to assure the public access to permanent natural lands and areas for safe and enjoyable outdoor recreation and education
For years before the acquisition of many forest preserve properties, these wooded areas adjoining rivers and croplands were inhabited by deer and hunted by archers. But forest preserve lands, once incorporated into the system, are off limits to hunters, and deer numbers can increase without checks. More so, deer from surrounding areas can use forest preserve lands as a sanctuary and further concentrate their populations. All of this sounds good for the deer, but it can be too much of a good thing.
When deer numbers are at a high level, and commonly seen by the viewing public, they are already creating problems.
On set-aside or protected lands, deer are the animals that affect the entire ecosystem. High deer numbers and severe browsing endanger rare plants, reduce shrubs and seedlings, and prevent the forest from regenerating itself. The resulting park-like effect has drastically reduced populations of flowers, small mammals, and ground-nesting birds. There is little or no regeneration of trees because they are nibbled down as fast as they grow. Without controls, deer are the animals that decide what lives and dies in the forest.
The WCFPD reason for being is, the purpose of protecting the flora, fauna, and scenic beauties within such district and to restore, restock, protect, and preserve the natural forests and such lands together with their flora and fauna, as nearly as may be, in their natural state and condition, for the purpose of the education, pleasure and recreation of the public.
Contrary to the opinions of the radical anti-hunting crowd such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), complete protection of deer is not in their own best interest. Scientific game management has demonstrated over and over that recreational hunting provides the best management tool not only for deer but for their habitat. Healthy, natural forest preserves require controlling the deer numbers and preventing their concentrations.
I believe that bow hunting, practiced in late fall and winter on selected WCFPD sites, is the legal, safe and low-impact solution to this impending problem. In my opinion, archers should be expected to pass hunter safety classes, archery proficiency tests, and should pay for the privilege of using these lands.
Some people, such as anti-hunters, will never accept the hunting concept, but I believe it to be a very good compromise for taxpayers, archers, the forest preserve district, and, most importantly, the inhabitants of the forests we hope to preserve for the future.
Don Ivacic is a retired biologist from Rock Valley College.