FARGO — Bow hunters showed up in force on Tuesday, June 22, at a public hearing to show support for the city's urban program that harvests mostly deer but a few turkeys in areas along the Red River, with several also suggesting an expansion of the hunting.
Of the 10 speakers, only one opposed continuing the 15-year-old program that the Fargo City Commission is considering disbanding. A final vote is possible at this coming Monday's meeting.
Interim Police Capt. Chris Helmick, who led the meeting, said he would take the comments, as well as emails he received, as his department prepares a final report for the commissioners.
The police concerns, he said, are public safety with possible errant arrows hitting the increasing numbers of people using trails while walking or bicycling. The area of concern is approximately 470 acres along the Red River where hunting is allowed from far north Fargo to the far south end Sept. 1 through Jan. 31.
Although there have been few complaints or any adverse incidents, Helmick said the chances of an incident are increasing.
The city's population growth has gone from 90,000 in 2006, when the program started, to 125,000.
Helmick also said it takes about 40-80 hours a year of police time to administer the program. At a cost of up to about $4,000, resources could be better used, according to Helmick. There have been reports, however, that the park district may want to take over the program.
Hunters who spoke described the program as nothing but successful and urged its continuation.
Individuals pointed to statistics showing in the 15 years of the program, there have been no accidents and that interactions with residents occur often while in stands, receiving nothing but positive reactions.
"We use the utmost care and judgment," said Nick Ackerman. "My friends and I haven't had any negative interactions" with other residents.
Brent Mitchell added that he has had positive conversations with families, dog lovers and bicyclists while hunting and that people need to know "we aren't the boogeyman sitting up in the tree. We are people."
Mitchell added what surprised him was the number of people he has talked with who are "overwhelmingly in support" of continuing the program.
As for public safety, Paul Speral said the record of hunters so far is "perfect."
He pointed out all hunters are required to be up in tree stands so that when arrows are shot, they go in a downward fashion to prevent any sailing through the air.
Helmick said there have been 140 arrows unaccounted for in the program, but Michael Gravalin said he uses what's called nocturnal nocks or lighted tips at the end of the arrows that can be more easily found and said that could be added as a requirement.
The bow hunters also argued in the doe-only program with 352 harvested that the number is rather high over the 15 years.
This compared to what hunters said was an an earlier comment at a previous City Commission meeting by Police Chief David Zibolski, that the harvest was rather low with a minimal effect on the herd in Fargo.
Ackerman added the success rate of the 45 hunters with permits allowed each year is higher in Fargo, a 42% to 49% range, compared to the statewide number of about 39%. A police report gathered from surveys from the hunters showed an even higher rate of 56% in at least one year.
Brian Zastoupil made the point that the program is about management, not eradication of the deer herd.
"I think the 352 number is very big," Zastoupil said, adding the multiplier effect would raise that number higher.
The police survey said hunters reported seeing up to 1,300 deer, with numbers increasing from the 250 range in the early years, to an average of 1,000.
The hunters also suggested expanding the number of permits, while stressing the difficulty of obtaining one before disappearing.
Renee Quadt, who feeds their family with the two or more deer they harvest, said sometimes she and her husband fail to get a state rifle license and have to depend on the city permit. She added there are hunters who get the $30 city permit each year who don't end up hunting.
Rob Mounts also suggested expanding the hunting boundaries, citing several other areas mostly in far north Fargo where park district and city owned land could be used. Mounts also favored expanding the number of hunters.
In the one negative comment at the hearing, Christopher Coen said bow hunting was the "cruelest way" to kill an animal and in some cases, only injures the animal.
The police report said over the 15 years, there were reports of 45 deer hit but not recovered. Coen favored a sharpshooter program to kill more of the deer if the city wanted to manage its herd more. Coen added the deer are "prolific" and often bounce back right into the areas along the river after the hunting season.
He doubted if bow hunting had much of an effect on management of the herd.
Wild turkey hunting was added in 2013 and hunters reported harvesting only nine birds since that time.