Chapel Hill deer, your days could be numbered.
Heeding calls from concerned residents in two neighborhoods, the Town Council on Monday directed the parks and recreation department to investigate curbing Chapel Hill's deer problem.
Councilmembers said the department's proposal to cure the problem by distributing a pamphlet on deer-resistant plants and fences wouldn't solve anything.
Instead, council voted, 8-1, with Laurin Easthom as the sole opposition, to apply for a 2011 urban archery permit from the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission by the April deadline, but it stopped short of passing the program. They voted to hold a public hearing with ecologists, residents and archers before making a final decision.
Specifically, council is looking for more information about the dangers of deer overpopulation, such as the threat of Lyme disease. They also want to analyze the effectiveness of bow hunting in other towns and cities. (Durham allows bow hunting in Duke Forest during certain times of the year.)
Lacking an official count, the evidence that the number of deer is increasing is more observational than statistical, but most who spoke at Monday night's meeting agreed that something must be done about them.
One option is for people to build costly and unattractive 8-foot fences, a solution that resident Mary Mendell said would result in "a town where the wealthiest people have walls around their yards."
Council could also encourage residents to cultivate deer-resistant flowers and shrubs, but that would mean gardeners would have to uproot their azaleas and other plants, without any guarantee of fewer deer.
Mendell was the first to petition the town to address the issue last March. She said the deer overpopulation presents more of a health and safety issue than a landscaping concern. "An insult to a citizen's intelligence" is how she described the parks and recreation department's suggestions. "These are just stopgap measures," she said.
Bob Reda, a Chapel Hill resident who said he shot his first deer with a bow and arrow in what's now Martha Stewart's New York backyard, said the practice is safe and discreet.
"If you miss, your arrow buries into the ground," he said, noting that only licensed hunters, who typically perch in trees, are allowed to take aim. "I missed three times this year."
North Carolina law prevents transporting deer, so, as Parks and Recreation Director Butch Kisiah said, "You can capture them all you want, but you can't take them anywhere."
Besides, Kisiah added, even if Chapel Hill could deport its deer, new ones would likely migrate to town.
"I think we have a lot more of research to do as far as do we really have a deer problem in Chapel Hill, but I can tell you it's an emotional issue for folks," Kisiah said. "They see them in their front yard. Some people love them. Some want to get rid of them."
Mount Bolus neighborhood residents, many of whom signed a petition asking council to approve urban archery, also made their pitch Monday. Most are longtime locals who said they've never seen so many of deer in their area.
To opponents of deer hunting, this is an issue of humans encroaching on animal territory and then seeking a way to conveniently dispose of them. To proponents, it's a matter of eliminating a nuisance.
Mayor Pro Tem Jim Ward, curator of the N.C. Botanical Garden, said the town needs to safeguard its investment in green and open space. "If you own land, you need to do more than just own it," he said. "You need to protect it."
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