After revisiting the idea of allowing limited deer hunting on large tracts of land within the city limits during its meeting Tuesday night, the Fairfax City Council was unable to come to a consensus on the issue, and therefore decided to ban the practice outright instead.
The council first discussed the issue at its June 11 meeting, when Fairfax City Police Chief Rick Rappoport advised the council that an extreme overpopulation of deer caused many hazards to the community, including an increase in deer-vehicle collisions, damage to property, damage to other animals and native plants, and even starvation of the deer themselves due to not enough food to go around.
The council discussed the possibilities of allowing controlled hunts with both archery and sharpshooting to help tame the population, but could not come to a consensus and ended up asking City staff to come back with more data on safety, alternative methods of controlling the population, migration patterns of deer in and out of the area, and other questions.
This week, Chief Rappoport brought with him wildlife biologist Vicky Monroe, who consults with Fairfax County on its deer management program, to give a thorough presentation that backs up the police department’s recommendation that the City allow controlled hunts by archery on tracts of land of 25 acres or more.
Monroe presented several facts to communicate the assertion that the local area has a big problem with overpopulation of deer. She said, an optimum number would be 15 to 20 deer per square mile – but that the local City and County areas currently have an estimated 40 to 100 deer per square mile.
She also said studies are showing that deer in northern Virginia are living twice as long as the average deer across the country. On average, most deer live between 5 and 7 years – locally, they are living between 8 to 12 years.
“Why is that important?” she said. “Because there is no such thing as ‘deer menopause.’ Deer can breed right up to the moment they take their last breath.”
She added, the population of deer in the local area is steadily increasing all the time, with nothing currently limiting it.
“If you don’t think there is a problem now….well, then, the only question is when,” she said.
When asked if there were perhaps any other alternative methods of taming down the local deer population, both Monroe and Chief Rappoport said, effectively, no.
Chief Rappoport said fences are not a logical option because they need to be, at minimum, seven feet tall to keep deer out, as the average deer can jump at least six feet in the air, and fences that tall are not only aesthetically unpleasant, but can clash with City zoning issues. As for “deer repellants,” he said they enjoy limited success and are costly, and constantly require replenishment.
Both Monroe and Rappoport argued that managed archery hunts are the best option they have found because they are cost-effective, “enjoy public support” for the most part, and even help local shelters since most hunters will donate meat from the deer they kill. Rappoport said archery is also quieter than shooting, and it is easy to track and accurately account for all shots taken with arrows.
“You definitely have a deer management issue. I would strongly recommend you address this now, before you have your first deer-human fatality, or you at least see a spike in deer-vehicle collisions,” Monroe told the council.
Mayor Scott Silverthorne said that kind of statement made him nervous.
“I don’t want to be disingenuous. Let’s be clear - that risk will never completely go away. I don’t want to promise something we can’t deliver,” he said, to which Monroe and Rappoport agreed.
Councilmember Michael DeMarco said he was “still not convinced the City had a problem” when Monroe and Rappoport’s “anecdotal data” indicates managed hunts only yield two kills each on average, and that there have only been about a half-dozen deer-vehicle accidents in the city over the past few years. Again, he asked for more data from the City to support the recommendations of having local hunts.
Concerns were also raised over the safety of having hunts in the city’s only two spots that are larger than 25 acres – the Army-Navy Country Club, and Daniels Run Park. To that, Monroe said Fairfax County typically either closes the parks to the public, or conducts the hunts at night when the parks are already closed.
Councilmembers David Meyer and Steve Stombres seemed unconvinced of the safety of such a plan. Meyer said it seemed to him that Fairfax City’s unique geography and needs make it too difficult to apply the same plan as Fairfax County uses.
Both Councilmembers Ellie Schmidt and Jeff Greenfield appeared to support the idea of allowing limited hunting by archery, and in fact, Greenfield suggested that limiting it to only the two properties of 25 acres or more might be too conservative to effectively deal with the problem.
All in all, that left the council at a 3-3 deadlock, which Mayor Silverthorne said meant the council did not have the majority needed to move forward with such an amendment.
Though Mayor Silverthorne suggested Chief Rappoport try again and come back to another meeting with more data that could potentially convince the three dissenting councilmembers, the Chief disagreed.
“I don’t know that we can provide a level of data that you’re requiring. I don’t know what else we can add to this,” Rappoport said.
Therefore, the Council asked City staff to begin drafting an ordinance that would outright ban hunting within Fairfax City limits, in order to be completely clear to residents what is and is not allowed.
Chief Rappoport said he would be happy to come back and revisit the idea of allowing limited hunting with the Council at a future date, should they wish to do so.
What do you think of the City’s decision to outrightly ban deer hunting, instead of drafting an ordinance that would allow it in limited means? Tell us in the comments below.
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