By Maria Maxham
The new and ad hoc River Forest Deer Management committee met for the first time Wednesday, Feb. 26. Formed by the village board to take on complex issues resulting from a perceived increase in the deer population expanding out of Thatcher Woods and into the adjacent residential neighborhood, the group discussed its goals to hold public forums on the issue, develop a survey for community members, and ultimately make recommendations to the village board about how to best handle the deer problem in town.
The committee will gather as a whole again on April 1 at a public meeting, and by that time committee members are expected to have read research provided by Patty Henek, a village trustee and committee co-chair.
The committee is chaired by Henek and Tom Cargie, another village trustee. Present at the Feb. 26 meeting were members Laurie Gillard, Annette Madden, John Roeger, Askold Kozbur, Katharine Christmas, Dan Hollenback, Cathleen Hughes and Julie Armstrong, with Joel Lueking conferenced in via phone.
The overall tone of the meeting was that of collaboration and coming at the issue from a basis of fact and data rather than emotion. Early in the meeting, Cargie expressed the necessity that the committee members work together with respect and treat each other like adults.
"This issue gets heated," said Cargie. "We can disagree, but let's not be disagreeable."
Up until now the issue has been contentious with the village board moving toward a pact with the Cook County Forest Preserve District to cull the deer population and then backing away from that approach in the face of local upset.
Henek outlined the goals and expectations of the group, including identifying the problems and their scope.
"We have multiple problems, which is probably going to mean we're going to need multiple solutions," Henek said. She also stressed the need to look at the issue as more than a black and white problem, as more than an issue of culling vs. not culling.
Cargie said, "Let's look for, and I hate the word, but it actually does apply, a 'holistic' way to deal with this."
The public forums and survey are intended to get as much input from residents and the community about the exact nature and scope of the problems related to the growing population of deer.
Henek said input from everyone is essential in coming up with solutions. "It's a community issue; how can we solve it as a community?" she said.
Problems brought up by committee members were focused on safety in terms of traffic issues, especially on Thatcher Avenue adjacent to the forest preserves; health, specifically related to ticks and the spread of Lyme disease; and landscaping issues caused by deer eating plants. But future discussions and the community survey will be ways in which the committee will develop a complete list of deer-related issues that are affecting residents.
Although culling could help solve these problems by reducing the deer population, committee members discussed the fact that other solutions could help as well. Extra signage on streets warning of deer, flashing or lighted signs to alert drivers or the deer themselves, and community education on topics like deer-repellant plants were several ideas brought up, although at this point in the discussion they were only used as examples of potential solutions.
"We're not going to eradicate the deer. We're not going to get rid of all the deer. The various problems people are having are going to continue," said Henek.
According to Cargie, culling is the only deer-related solution for which the village would need permission. Education, community outreach, and changes related to traffic signals can all be approved through the village. Culling, however, needs permission from the Cook County Forest Preserve District, which needs permission from the state.
"The state of Illinois owns the deer. The Forest Preserve owns the land. We live next door to the land," said Cargie.
The committee talked about breaking into sub-groups focused on work and research into particular problems, and this will be discussed at greater length at the April meeting.
Although the committee agreed that, at least anecdotally, the deer population has increased substantially over the past years, Henek encouraged members to think in terms of the problems residents are facing rather than on numbers alone.
"Focusing on the numbers of the deer isn't perhaps the best way to look at it," said Henek. "When you get to the point of feeling like you have to do things to manage the deer, it's not about looking at numbers. It's about what are the issues people are having and what is the tolerance level to needing to address that."
Hughes expressed concern with looking solely at numbers as well.
"My concern is that we want to be so data driven on historical results," said Hughes. "My fear is that we wait till someone gets killed swerving from deer on Thatcher before we decide to do something. Before something catastrophic happens, we really need to think about it and not everything is going to be a data point that we can point to." She added: "We need to be proactive rather than reactive."
Although the Feb. 26 meeting was public, no residents attended. The committee hopes to have its public survey ready by June or July.
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