As the number of deer roaming within Little Rock city limits steadily increases to the point of posing health and safety risks to residents, the city’s Board of Directors will consider allowing an urban deer hunt. The method of wildlife control has been successfully employed in a handful of other cities in Arkansas.
Such hunts allow those with hunting licenses to pursue deer within the city by archery only. The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s Deer Program Coordinator Ralph Meeker will present three options for urban deer hunt programs to the board on Tuesday.
"All three of these options will require ordinance amendments if their firearms ordinance includes archery equipment," he said. "The simplest option is to remove the restriction on archery equipment and allow folks to hunt whitetail deer inside the city limits in accordance with the surrounding deer zone."
Meeker says that’s the first option he plans to propose. The second will allow the city to become a de facto “hunting club,” where there is a set number of tags during a defined period. The third option would require individuals wanting to take part in a hunt to obtain a permit by attending training from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and the Arkansas Bowhunters Association. Hunters would also be required to bag a doe for their first kill and donate it to the nonprofit Arkansas Hunters Feeding the Hungry. The first and third options would have no bag limit, which Meeker said would make wildlife control more efficient.
As far as methods of deer population control go, he says hunts tend to be the most cost-efficient and effective. Alternative methods include using contraception and sterilization – a task that would prove as unwieldy as it is expensive. But are the benefits of reducing health and safety risks posed by deer overpopulation actually worth the potential safety risks of allowing weapons in populated areas?
There’s no question that the impact of deer overpopulation is overwhelmingly negative. For one, higher numbers of deer inevitably result in more accidents with cars hitting deer. A 2005 study in the Journal of the Arkansas Academy of Science shows that the number of collisions in Arkansas rises and peaks at the same time of year as white-tailed deer breeding activity, and the greatest number of collisions occur during the time of day when deer are most active. Less well-known, however, are the ecological risks. Meeker said there are some environmental benefits of reducing the deer population.
"It’s beneficial to the plant species that live there, it’s beneficial to the other animal species that live there, it’s beneficial to humans that utilize those areas, and lastly, it’s beneficial to the deer population," Meeker said. "When you have a high deer population, you have a smaller amount of habitat and vegetation and food sources for those animals to consume."
As for the risks of allowing bowhunting within city limits, Meeker says there have been no hunting accidents in the eight other Arkansas cities that have allowed urban deer hunts. In fact, he says the most common hunting accidents are people falling out of tree stands. But because deer often wander onto private property, there is the risk that even well-trained bowhunters will inadvertently trespass and discharge their weapons near unsuspecting people.
The board doesn’t plan to vote on any options just yet. Meeker says Tuesday’s meeting is purely a "fact-finding mission." However, this isn’t the first time Little Rock city officials have considered urban deer hunts as a possible solution to deer overpopulation. However this most recent influx of deer in residential areas may be an indirect consequence of extreme weather patterns in the region that NPR reported can be attributed to global climate change.
"I think with the recent flooding on the Arkansas River and the higher deer populations that are along the river, that has kind of exacerbated those deer moving out of those bottoms up into more residential areas," Meeker said. "The deer density issue became more noticeable during those times of high water."
If an urban deer hunt program is enacted in Little Rock, the season might begin on September 1, which Meeker says is the typical start of the urban deer hunting season. However all of the rules and regulations are subject to change depending on what the city needs, he says.