FARGO — Concerned about public safety, Fargo Police Chief David Zibolski is recommending an end next year to the city's wildlife management program that allows bow hunters to hunt deer on city and park district-owned parcels along the Red River stretching from the city's far south to the northern city limits
A repeal of the 15-year-old ordinance allowing the program will be discussed at this Monday's City Commission meeting in what could be a first step in stopping the program which runs from Sept. 1 to Jan. 31.
The program, which allows 45 permits each year, has already been approved by the City Commission to continue this year through Jan. 31.
The issue has been debated since this past summer and was followed by a public hearing with bow hunters all speaking in favor of the keeping the program.
A study group, which included Fargo Park District and North Dakota Game and Fish Department officials, was then formed and after meeting in August they recommended keeping the hunt with some changes in regulations.
Zibolski in his Nov. 9 letter to city commissioners wrote that the city population has grown greatly since 2005 and urban hunting brings "an obvious conflict" in residents' ability to use the city parks safely.
"There is substantial public land opportunities within the Fargo area for bow and arrow hunters to otherwise safely hunt deer," he wrote. "Therefore, the elimination of this program would in no way take away the hunting abilities of the 45 applicants."
He added, "continuation of the program, based on public input received, is having an adverse effect on the public usage of our public park and recreation areas and creates an unnecessary public safety risk."
The police department has been overseeing the program, and the chief also believes police time could be better spent. He added that the Game and Fish Department and park district also had no interest in taking over operation of the program.
The program elimination proposal isn't sitting well with the hunters and other supporters. One of those is Brian Zastoupil, who was a member of the study group.
In an interview Friday, Nov. 12, he said when 10 people spoke in favor of the continuation at the public hearing with only one person opposed he believes that was "representative" of the support for the program.
He said any decision to end the program would be "ill advised."
Zastoupil said there are similar bow hunting programs across the nation in cities larger and smaller than Fargo and they are successful.
"I don't think the program is a genuine public safety threat," he said.
Throughout the process, it's been noted there have been no injuries or major problems as a result of the bow hunting.
Besides, Zastoupil said he thought the proper process was being followed through the meetings that would keep the program going.
After Zibolski's latest findings, however, Mayor Tim Mahoney asked the city attorney's office to draft the ordinance repealing the program.
In the past few months, two men also started a petition drive that was signed by more than 300 people opposing the urban hunting.
The two men, Richard Thomas and Chris Coen, have spoke up at past City Commission meetings and also urged the city's Park Board at its meeting last week to oppose the program.
"The park system has changed in 15 years," Thomas told the park commissioners. "They are now more heavily used."
Thomas also pointed out how signs on the nature parks where hunting is allowed make note of the "experimental herd reduction" but at the bottom it adds "enter at your own risk."
"That's scaring people away," he said.
The Park Board said they wanted to see what the city decided before making any decision on the use of the city's nature parks for the bow hunting.
Park Commissioner Jerry Rostad, who has seen deer in his yard in south Fargo, said he was concerned about a growing population of deer in the city and that if unchecked it could be a problem five years down the road.