Guest Column by Beth Waldron
When you go for a walk around Chapel Hill, do you wear blaze orange for safety? You may wish to consider it. Hunting — both legal and illegal — is occurring in unexpected places in town and reflects a need for the town to revise the Deer Management Program.
A neighborhood’s experience
I live in Parkside subdivision off Weaver Dairy Road Extension, a neighborhood of single-family homes on 0.13 to 0.27 acre lots, many of which back up to Town of Chapel Hill owned land utilized for Homestead Park and the proposed Upper Booker Creek Trail. Parkside is not the sort of place one would expect hunting to occur, but it does.
This fall, a Parkside property owner installed a pop-up hunting blind in their backyard. Under current town policy, it is legal for this property owner to bow hunt deer on their lot, even though it is listed at only 0.21 acres, with the footprint of the house taking up most of the lot. No notification of neighbors or the town was required, so residents never know when they walk outside if active hunting is taking place mere steps away.
Last year, outside of the established urban archery season, a hunter installed a tree-stand and baited deer with corn on town-owned land abutting the Parkside neighborhood — this was along a foot path of the future Upper Booker Creek Trail often used by residents as a cut-through to Homestead Park. The issue was resolved by a NC Wildlife Enforcement Officer, who cited the hunter for not wearing blaze orange and having permission of the property owner.
Although the officer encountered the hunter with weapon in hand, the hunter could not be cited for hunting out of season because the hunter was not actually up on the stand at the time of encounter. The hunter removed the stand at the officer’s request.
Rules for hunting within town limits
Current hunting rules were formed in response to Mt. Bolus neighborhood residents who in 2009 petitioned the town that deer were eating their landscaping plants and they wanted to be able to hold a controlled hunt to reduce the deer population.
A public forum on the issue was held in spring 2010. Experts from the NC Wildlife Resources Commission, Orange County Health Department and others provided information related to deer overpopulation and the feasibility of an urban bow hunt for deer.
The resulting policy was the Deer Management Program, a plan administered under the town’s parks and recreation department. Under it, property owners in the Town of Chapel Hill may hunt deer with a bow and arrow during the appropriate hunting season and with the proper state hunting license. Season dates, licensing and enforcement are the responsibility of the NC Wildlife Resources Commission.
The Town of Chapel Hill was approved by the commission to participate in the 2019 Urban Archery Season. There are two time-windows this season in which property owners with a valid state hunting license may hunt deer with a bow and arrow. The first window is Sept. 7 – Jan. 1, 2020. The next window for hunting is Jan. 11 – Feb. 16, 2020. Residents can hunt deer anytime with a special Depredation Hunting Permit, by showing property damage in excess of $50.
When I first encountered a deer stand behind my house, no one I contacted knew who had jurisdiction. I was bounced from the town’s parks and recreation department to the county animal services to state wildlife resources commission before finally being able to connect with an enforcement field officer. Most people are probably not going to take the time I did to find a resolution.
Unfortunately, there is only one state wildlife enforcement officer assigned to cover the three-county region which includes Orange, Alamance and Caswell counties. Since violators must be caught in the act of hunting, finding and citing violators is challenging and time-consuming. Even when violators are caught, state penalties are mild such that they do not necessarily discourage repeat offense.
It is time to revisit the rules regarding hunting in the city limits.
While I appreciate that concerns of deer overpopulation, management should not come at the expense of public safety. Given our town’s increasing development density, I fear it is only a matter of time before a hunting accident occurs. Most residents are unaware hunting is allowed and some hunters are not following the existing rules.
I am petitioning the Chapel Hill Town Council to ban all hunting in the city limits and permit the harvesting of deer only by professionals during organized culls which are pre-approved by the town and for which residents are given advance notification.
Please consider signing the petition here: http://chng.it/tgYvLLjMCb
What can be done in the meantime? If you see illegal hunting taking place (regardless of location in a backyard or on town land), please contact our area’s NC Wildlife Enforcement Officer, Sgt Justin Mathis, at 336-264-9823 or contact the Chapel Hill Policy Department via 911.
Beth Waldron is a Chapel Hill resident. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.