Challenges, concerns, hopes discussed as Alexandria re-examines idea of having a deer hunt in city limits
Many details are left to be ironed out, and Alexandria police chief Scott Kent is calling on the public to help in putting together a plan on what management of a deer hunt to help reduce deer numbers in Alexandria might look like.
Alexandria is once again trying to establish if a deer hunt within city limits is something worth putting in place after the topic was broached last winter.
Alexandria City Council member Roger Thalman first brought up the subject for discussion at a Dec. 14, 2020 city council meeting. Thalman has heard from residents about how high deer numbers in areas of the city were doing damage to gardens and landscaping.
Drafting the framework for a hunt was ultimately put on hold in 2021. On Tuesday afternoon, Feb. 1, the subject was examined again during a public meeting held at Alexandria City Hall led by Alexandria Police Chief Scott Kent.
Almost 30 people were in attendance with members of the general public, the DNR, and representatives from local outdoor organizations in the Viking Sportsmen and Minnesota Deer Hunters Association.
The meeting itself was a discussion for people to voice their thoughts on hosting a hunt in city limits as a way to manage the deer populations.
No official plans have been put in place. Kent hopes to be able to present to the city council a finding of agreement between stakeholders by May 9, 2022. That may mean ending the discussion or moving forward with a city-wide deer management plan.
How would a hunt be managed?
One obstacle of hosting a hunt within city limits is establishing how it would be managed and who would run it.
There are blueprints from other communities in Minnesota that host archery hunts within city limits to manage deer numbers. Many of those operate under a special set of regulations instead of within the normal guidelines that the DNR uses to manage deer herds outside of city limits in a deer permit area.
Some city hunts are set up where hunters can only shoot females from the herd due to that being the best way to reduce the population. Others have an earn-a-buck regulation where hunters have to shoot a doe before they can take a buck.
Special hunts are sometimes run by organizations that work in cooperation with the city to help administer them. Duluth’s city hunt that drew 305 hunters in 2020, for example, is organized and administered by the Arrowhead Bowhunters Alliance . Hunts in New Ulm and Redwood Falls are assisted by the local DNR office.
Hunters in city limits are often required to go through a proficiency test to ensure an archer’s accuracy with their bow before they are able to hunt. This is done to alleviate safety concerns and also as a way to help reduce the number of wounded deer.
Cities are often broken down into multiple hunt areas that have a limited number of hunters who can take part within each zone.
Kent made it clear from the start of Tuesday’s meeting that the city of Alexandria does not have the resources or qualifications to run such a hunt on their own.
“We’re going to need help from the community,” Kent said in an interview with the Echo Press after the meeting. “The city, we don’t have the capacity to manage a deer herd. We don’t have the knowledge. We’re not biologists, we’re not scientists. We’re not the DNR. They’re the experts in how to run a deer hunt.”
Questions that would have to be answered are how big would the hunt be in terms of permits allowed and where could it take place?
The DNR sets license quotas, in large part, based on deer population estimates within deer permit areas. There is currently no population estimate for the deer herd within Alexandria.
Conducting aerial surveys is often the model used as a starting point in establishing population estimates. That comes with a big price tag, and surveying from the air in densely-wooded areas can make it hard to count deer.
“It comes back to how can we do the most simplified hunt without incurring all the extra costs?” Kent said. “We believe our citizens. They say there’s a deer problem in their areas, but we have no way of measuring that. There’s no data to measure that right now.”
Trespassing and possible disputes between landowners that could come from wounded deer going onto neighboring properties were concerns Kent raised on Tuesday.
Some proponents of a hunt also cited concerns of overpopulation and the risk of Chronic Wasting Disease potentially establishing within the herd.
CWD, an always-fatal neurological disease in deer and other members of the cervid family, has not been found within the wild deer herd around Alexandria. But Douglas County is part of a deer-feeding ban due to CWD being confirmed in a deer from a small cervid farm in late 2019.
Kent said that residents he has heard from are split on whether or not they want a hunt.
He hears from people who say deer numbers in certain parts of Alexandria are too high and they want something done about it, but he also hears from those who enjoy that aspect of living in this area.
“There’s people who love to see the deer and wildlife,” Kent said. “The other piece is a safety issue. That’s quite frankly a concern. When you have hunting arrows and broadheads, we know it doesn’t take much of a tree branch to send it going a different way. So in residential areas, certainly safety is a concern.”
Some in attendance mentioned the possibility of requiring archers to hunt from elevated stands where they would be shooting down at the ground as a way to increase safety.
Rich and Marie Merten have lived on the northeast side of Alexandria since 1987. Since about 2010, they have seen deer numbers in their area of town continue to climb, they said.
“In 2013 they were invasive,” Marie said after Tuesday’s meeting. “That was a tipping point.”
Marie said that more and more housing developments in wooded areas around their neighborhood have made the deer much more visible as they have gotten more comfortable around humans while eating down gardens and landscaping.
Marie said she never envisioned herself having such a problem with deer, but that they have become a nuisance. The Mertens hope would be that a well-managed, archery deer hunt within city limits could not only lower populations but also make deer more apprehensive about being around human activity.
“They’re not afraid of people whatsoever,” Marie said. “Deer have become so accustomed to humans now that they have no fear.”
Next meeting set for Feb. 22
Kent ended the discussion on Feb. 1 by setting a date for a second meeting where the public is encouraged to help lay out specific management strategies and blueprints of what a hunt in Alexandria might look like if the city moved forward with it.
Those interested are encouraged to attend on Tuesday, Feb. 22 from 3-5 p.m. at the Alexandria Police Department (501 3rd Avenue West).