CHARLOTTESVILLE CITY COUNCIL
A steadily increasing number of reported deer deaths in Charlottesville may lead to an organized culling within city limits.
Alternatively, depending on whether the City Council is willing to allocate funding for such an effort, local law could change to make it easier for city residents to take matters into their own hands — with bows and arrows.
On Monday, the City Council discussed those possibilities following a presentation from a Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries official who suggested the city could consider a few hunting-centric strategies to manage the city's deer population.
"Hunting is the most effective means of controlling deer numbers. That's the bottom line," said David Kocka, of the VDGIF.
According to Kocka, state officials and community stakeholders have spent more than a decade using a routinely re-evaluated state deer management plan to guide communities that are concerned about deer.
While public safety and animal welfare shape the management strategies and data in the state guide, Kocka said, urban communities have been particularly concerned about keeping roads and properties clear of deer that can destroy gardens, damage personal property and, in some cases, cause death.
"It's people not wanting to hit them with their cars [and] people wanting to grow a garden or agricultural products with minimal damage," he said. "Those are the issues that drive more and more deer management across the landscape — not just in Virginia, but in every other state."
Councilor Kristin Szakos said the number of reported deer deaths in Charlottesville is disconcerting.
Although a city police official said Tuesday there have been only 11 reported deer elated crashes since 2014, the city's Public Works department has had to remove more than 100 dead deer from public streets and sidewalks during that period.
According to Public Works, the number of carcass removals has been increasing: 10 in 2014, 45 in 2015 and at least 60 this year.
From July 1, 2015 to July 18, 2016, there were 214 automobile crashes involving deer in Albemarle County.
"This accounts for approximately 9 percent of the crashes during this timeframe," said county police spokeswoman Madeline Curott. "Incidents occurring in the rural areas are double that of incidents occurring in the urban areas."
"I think we are culling them, but the way we are leaves them screaming on the road," Szakos said. "I live off the bypass and I've heard them. I hadn't realized deer could make noises like that."
Kocka said localities in Virginia are not permitted to enact ordinances that prevent or allow hunting, but local regulations on the discharge of weapons usually create restrictions.
He suggested that permitted hunters can currently bow hunt within city limits during the archery hunting season, alleging the local ordinance does not ban the discharge of arrows entirely.
According to local code, "No person shall discharge arrows, nails or bullets from a bow or crossbow in or into any street or other public place, or anywhere within the city discharge shot, gravel, bullets or other similar substances from a sling shot or similar implement."
City Attorney Craig Brown said the code is "ambiguous" and that it could be revisited to clarify what's allowed within the city.
If the local ordinance is rewritten or interpreted by officials to allow bow hunting within city limits, the city could encourage local permitted hunters to cull deer in the city during the statewide archery hunting season (Oct. 1 to Nov. 18).
Additionally, local officials could expand the archery season in the city if it chooses to recognize the urban archery season (Sept. 3-30 and Jan. 8 to March 26.)
While the regular archery and firearm seasons are considered a general statewide deer management measure and sponsorship of game hunting, the urban archery season is meant to "reduce human/deer conflicts in urban areas," according to a VDGIF webpage on urban archery.
Approximately 40 Virginia cities and towns observe the urban archery season, including Fairfax County, Richmond and Roanoke.
Councilor Kathy Galvin said she is more interested in a controlled program. And Szakos expressed some concern about giving local hunters more leeway to hunt in residential areas, saying the idea makes her "squeamish."
"I'm not sure we have a culture of hunting in this city," Galvin said. "Would they hunt in Charlottesville?"
Kocka and Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer responded quickly, saying that hunters in the county and in the city would be willing to get involved.
Citing other cities that have grappled with deer population management, Kocka said a sponsored culling program could cost tens of thousands of dollars. In Roanoke, he said, officials recentlyspentabout$90,000 in one year working with two private entities.
Signer said he's interested in a deer management program, but he weighed whether the city should allow it to be" decentralized."
"My experience with hunters is that they are generally very conscientious. They care about the land a lot and generally are well trained."
"The appeal to me is that it's free. ... If you allow it to be self-regulated in the way hunting is," he said, "you're depending on a culture of care."
Signer also said statistics that Kocka presented demonstrate that archery is a safe, effective measure to manage the deer population.
According to Kocka there have been no archery hunting incidents in Virginia since 2002. And since 1960, there have been only five.
"The National Safety Council says archery hunting is safer than baseball, football, tennis, golf and swimming," Kocka said. "If you're concerned about archery hunting, you better not allow your kids to play baseball, football or go swimming because it's a lot more dangerous."
At the end of the discussion, the council directed the staff to study other cities that have implemented deer management programs and assess what costs may be incurred if the city chooses to contract a private entity to do the culling.
Signer said council will hold another discussion and a public hearing on the matter once the report is complete.
Chris Suarez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (434) 978-7274.