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Group recommends keeping Fargo's urban hunting program, eliminating turkey harvest

The question of who should run the program has also been raised, although the study group didn't develop a firm recommendation.

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Lieutenant Mathew Sanders, left, who has been administering the wildlife management program along the Red River, and Captain Chris Helmick listened to comments from a study group on Monday, Aug. 9, at police headquarters. Barry Amundson / The Forum
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FARGO — A seven-member study group will be recommending continuation of the 15-year-old wildlife management program or urban hunting along the banks of the Red River in the city.

Led by Lt. Mathew Sanders, who has administered the program for the past several years, the panel said in a meeting at the Fargo Police Department headquarters on Monday, Aug. 9, they all favored keeping the deer bow hunting program but will recommend eliminating the harvesting of wild turkeys with so few birds taken.

The panel's recommendations will go to Police Chief David Zibolski, who raised concerns about its safety last spring with the city's growing population and increased use of recreational trails along the river. The chief will present the group's suggestions to the City Commission on Sept. 7 for their final decision.

It was previously decided that the program would continue as scheduled from Sept. 1 to Jan. 31 this year.

The group came up with safety measures to consider as the program continues:

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  • Raise the minimum tree-stand level to 12 feet from 10 feet to keep arrows flying in a downward direction.
  • Require lighted nocks on the end of arrows to help locate them.
  • Have arrows marked on both the front and back to help find them if hunters are required to report how many arrows they may lose.
  • Require harnesses for bow hunters in their tree stands to prevent falls.
  • Have an annual review of the program to check on safety and other questions, as suggested by Police Captain Chris Helmick. Some questions were suggested to be added to the year-end survey of the 45 hunters who receive permits for a better handle on safety.

Another proposal is to make sure hunters remove their tree stands each year and that they are all tagged with the permit holder.
This has been a minor problem, but Sanders said it could help so children don't climb up into the trees in the offseason and for other safety reasons.

The question of who should run the program has also been raised, although the study group didn't develop a firm recommendation.

The group praised Sanders' work, which involves a training program for the hunters, an online signup and spot compliance checks during the year. He said he puts in about 60 hours a year on the program.

As alternatives, the group discussed having the park district assist more in the program's operations as Parks Director Dave Bietz said the park board favored the program in the past and they consider it another recreational opportunity.

Volunteers could also become involved to help with tasks such as ensuring tree stands are removed after each season.

The big question, though, was if the program should continue, and it was obvious the whole group was all in favor of keeping the program.

Sanders said the 45 permits each year are usually sold out in three to four minutes when they are offered online each June.

Bow hunter Brian Zastoupil said the harvesting of 353 deer over the 15 years or an average of about 23 a year shows that it can help manage the herd.

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Paul Speral, of the North Dakota Bowhunter's Association, said the program was effective, extremely safe and invisible, adding sometimes people in the woods don't even notice the hunters up in their tree stands.

Jeb Williams, the wildlife division chief for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, said he believes public acceptance of the program is "pretty high."

He said it's a good "maintenance program" for the prolific deer herd and that the cultural experience of hunting in the state is "highly valued."

"A lot of people do like to see the deer, too, in their cities," he said.

That's not true for everyone, Zastoupil noted, as the program started in response to north Fargo residents having deer interfere with landscaping and gardens.

"I know of people that put electric fences around their gardens," he said.

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