Who wants hunting in Mariemont, and why?

Last week the Village of Mariemont’s council agreed on a plan to redesign the bow hunting program that began illegally last fall and was quickly suspended. But facts are vague and opinions divided, on why the program began without input from the town council or the public, and whether it should be revived.


Background

The controversy broke shortly after Rick Hines, Mariemont’s police chief, and Dan Policastro, the village’s mayor, authorized eight bow hunters to kill up to one buck, two does, and unlimited coyotes.    Using nieghborhing Indian Hill’s annual cull as a model, they would shoot from tree stands on an 80-acre triangle of cultivated land between the southern edge of residential Mariemont and the Little Miami River, during the season that began Sept. 27.  The group of hunters included two police officers, two fire fighters, a village maintenance officer, Hines’ son, an acquaintance of Hines, and one local resident.

The program first came before the village’s council at its Oct. 12 meeting, when a resident inquired about its progress. Council members expressed dismay at their exclusion from the program’s development, and according to Oct. 27 meeting minutes, Councilwoman Melissa Schmit said the omission looked “highly suspicious.”

signs prohibit hunting and trespassing above the railroad underpass leading to Mariemont's lower 80 acres.

Signs prohibit hunting and trespassing above the railroad underpass leading to Mariemont's lower 80 acres.

Schmit also pointed out that the program violated Mariemont’s Ordinance 137.09, which prohibits both shooting arrows and hunting in the village limits. And in doing so unannounced, she argued, it endangered visitors to the 80 acres–dog walkers and teens in particular.

Last week evidence of both abounded in the area, where wheat and soy fields surround a community garden. Paw prints and chewed tennis balls encircled the garden, mingling with deer tracks. Paint ball splats decorated the side of a compost shed, expletives annotated a railroad crossing sign, and about 10 muddy yards downhill from the garden, coffee cans full of ashes and wax sat abandoned by the side of the Little Miami.

Mayor Policastro acknowledged that bypassing the council had been an error, but said he hadn’t known the land fell within village limits. He added that he and Officer Hines had acted quickly because of pressure from Josh Zientek, Hamilton County’s Wildlife Officer for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR). According to Policastro, “He was very aggressive, that this needed to be done.”

But Zientek said he gave no indication of urgency. “I didn’t say this hunting season, I just said, ‘This is something you should look into.’ It didn’t matter to me, obviously, when they did it.”

Mariemont’s council voted Nov. 10 to suspend the program; by then one buck had been shot by Barry Luppert, the acquaintance of Officer Hines.

Human health and safety

The program’s main proponents, Mayor Policastro, Police Chief Hines, and Council Safety Committee Chairman Dennis Wolter, have said residents face several dangers if deer and coyote populations are not culled. They listed Lyme disease, bluetongue disease, coyote attacks on small children, and automobile collisions with deer.

But three of these claims were contradicted by the experts Policastro said he relied on for advice: ODNR’s Zientek and Don Hopkins, a local conservationist who has worked with the organization Little Miami, Inc. in the woods abutting Mariemont, since 1969.

“Whatever [Don] tells me, I take for gospel truth,” said Policastro.

Hopkins, 81, chuckled at the idea that local ticks were dangerous. “‘Lyme disease! We’ll get Lyme disease!'” he chirped. “Far as I’m concerned, that’s sort of a Chicken Little thing. I practically live outdoors, off-path, and I’ve never had Lyme disease. I’ve had ticks on me, but never black-legged ticks.”

According to Zientek, epizootic hemorrhagic disease–the fly-borne viral infection in deer that is sometimes confused with bovine bluetongue disease–is not known to pose a risk to humans or domestic animals.

Neither Zientek nor Hopkins had heard of any coyote attacks on children. Zientek said that in Ohio’s records only one adult, who intentionally cornered a sick coyote near Cleveland, has been bitten.

Ray Sabo is a Mariemont resident who has a garden plot in the lower 80 acres, and said he believes the deer down there need to be culled somehow.  He and his dog Sadie often take walks around the area, in winter.

Ray Sabo is a Mariemont resident with a garden plot in the lower 80 acres, who said he believes deer in that area need to be culled. He and his dog Sadie often take walks around the area, during the winter.

Critics and proponents of Mariemont’s hunting program agree on one thing: coyotes are too few, wary, and intelligent for the program to have a meaningful impact on their numbers.

Hopkins, who considers himself a life-long hunter and thinks the local coyote population needs to be controlled, believes coyotes entered this discussion for another reason.

“I think the coyote thing has been added to increase the acceptability of the deer thing,” he said. “They try to think of everything they can to justify hunting deer.”

Mike Lemon, Mariemont’s former mayor, agreed. He offered one word, “Deflection,” to explain why he thought coyotes were part of the program.

Policastro said he’d rather be safe than sorry, with coyotes around children. “You don’t want to say, aw jeez, it couldn’t happen or it might not happen. You just can’t do that in today’s world.”

The mayor, who was an insurance adjuster for 35 years before taking his current office, also recounted memories of gruesome deaths from deer strikes in claims he had handled.

“Safety is the most important thing,” he said. “That’s a mayor’s job—the safety of the citizens.”

Animal health and safety

There have been no reports of Mariemont dogs or cats hurt by coyotes, but Indian Hill tallies several attacks on companion animals each year. One Mariemont resident has also been quoted in newspapers as saying she saw a coyote in a park “licking his chops” at her small dog.

On the health of wild animals, Councilman Wolter argued that those who oppose hunting for “emotional” reasons simply lack experience. “Urban folks who’ve never hunted see it as bad, they don’t understand that it’s better for the animal,” he said. “They’ve never seen an animal starve to death.”

After a February shower, deer had left highly-personalized autographs across the community garden's unplanted beds.

After a February shower, deer had left their autographs across the community garden's unplanted beds.

Wolter said he had seen starving deer in Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park—but, he admitted, never in Ohio.

Dave Risley, ODNR’s head of wildlife management research, called deer starvation in Ohio very rare: “Our habitats could support a lot more deer than they do know.”

“It’s not so much biological carrying capacity,” Officer Zientek clarified. “It’s more the sociological carrying capacity—it’s what humans can handle.”

Opinions around town

Isabelle Schram, a resident of Mariemont for 9 years who has weighed in on the hunting program in council meetings, described herself as “pretty much against hunting in general.” She said she enjoys living on her large, wooded lot because of the wild animals that share it, including deer and a coyote.

In Schram’s opinion, a survey sent out from the Mayor’s office to assess support for hunting, was structured around the assumption that both deer and coyotes were overpopulated. The questions, she said, played on residents’ fear of coyotes, making it hard to oppose any part of the program by lumping the two species together and offering no alternative solutions.

Residents were asked to respond to the following questions, printed on the back of the Mayor’s monthly bulletin:

  1. Have you seen deer in the residential area, in the roadways, experienced deer/car accidents or near misses?
  2. Have you had deer in your yard, or damage to gardens, flowers, or landscaping?
  3. Do you believe that we have deer/coyote overpopulations in the village of Mariemont?
  4. Do you support the establishment of a tightly-controlled deer/coyote culling program in the South 80 Acres (controlled hunt using bows only)
On three recent days in February, evidence of deer surrounded Mariemont's community garden.

On three recent days in February, evidence of deer surrounded Mariemont's community garden

Many residents said in interviews that they never received the survey, or got it only after the deadline to respond had passed. Of those that received it in time, 98 responded. According to Policastro, about 80% of respondents expressed support for the program.

Considering the village had no data to prove that a problem existed, Schram said she thought an undeclared motive underlay the program.

“I think it’s because they like hunting,” she said. ” They want to have a little fun, so they are trying to find some reasons.”

But Andy Gordon, a Mariemont resident, scout leader, and hunter whose son was the one resident to receive a hunting permit last fall, said he believed the program had arisen from “very, very good intentions.” The survey, he added, was “a good step forward in asking the community their opinions.”

Gordon, also a writer, said he was asked to write about the hunting program for the village’s Town Crier, but declined because it was such a delicate issue.

“I think it has to be very carefully discussed in the community, as to how you determine whether or not you have a problem.”

Defining a problem

The hunting program’s latest version proposes to inform and involve residents, and requires hunters to take a safety training run by ODNR. Despite these improvements, though, some see its failure to articulate either a problem or a goal as a persistent flaw.

At the village council’s Nov. 10 meeting, Vice-mayor Rex Bevis said he would like to see a program that would define the problem first, before the solution.

When Mike Lemon, former mayor of the village, heard about the program, he asked the council and mayor how many deer lived in Mariemont. He said he could get no satisfactory answer. “Everything I heard was either anecdotal or opinion.”

Alarmed by the program’s illegality and by what he saw as its lack of a scientific basis, he pressed the council to change the village’s anti-hunting ordinance, and meanwhile approached Indian Hill for information about its annual deer count. The neighboring town, which splits the cost of a helicopter count with Madeira each winter, invited Mariemont to join them at a cost to each of about $2500.

But Mayor Policastro called the proposal too expensive, and Councilman Wolter said they had enough information already, from citizens’ deer sighting reports.

Bill Ebelhar, another member of the council Safety Committee in charge of hunting, said he considered the survey to have translated anecdote into data. He also said that measuring the village’s deer numbers would miss the point of the program, which is to decrease the number of deer “incidents”–not inhabitants–in Mariemont.

He and others, however, expressed an uncertainty about whether deer seen in the village were in fact the same deer seen in the southern 80 acres, and therefore whether the proposed cull would reduce deer sightings in residential areas, or not.

A jogger loops between the community garden and a field of razed wheat.

A jogger loops between the community garden and a field of razed wheat.

Perspectives on trophy hunting

Ebelhar also echoed a version of Schram’s theory: “I think there was some concern early on, that the deer program was really license for somebody to go down and get a 10-point buck.” He said he did not believe this was true, “but even if that was the case, I think we now have enough data from the surveys to indicate there’s a problem.”

According to Assistant Fire Chief Matt Morgan, the buck killed in Mariemont looked like a 10-pointer, based on a photograph of the archer and trophy he saw at the fire department.

“Is that what we were supposed to be going down there to control?” asked the bow hunter of 25 years, now licensed in Mariemont. “I don’t know. . . If there’s a policy in place, or we’re doing this for a reason, we’d be out to shoot does, before we’d be out trophy-hunting.”

But Councilman Wolter, a bird hunter, said he thinks that removing the incentive of a trophy would cause hunters to lose interest in the program.

“I think if you tell a hunter who’s in there early in the season and a 10-pointer goes by, that he can’t keep it. . . ” he trailed off.

Andy Gordon, who feeds his family venison, said there are plenty of excellent deer hunters who hunt only for food. “If you’re gonna have a program, and you have an objective,” he said, “then you would select your hunters to achieve your outcome.”

As it stands, the program’s objective remains unclear. According to Mayor Policastro, who has hunted birds but not deer, it was first considered a recreation project. “We took it out of Health and Recreation and put it in Safety, because we’re more concerned about the safety of people.”

“But when the wintertime comes,” said Policastro, “and no one’s gardening down there, it’s a perfect place for deer hunters.

* * *

Photographs are by the author.

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5 thoughts on “Who wants hunting in Mariemont, and why?

  1. I live in Mariemont, and while I don’t like the idea of hunting for any kind of animal, I would find it easy to believe that deer over-population would be an issue here. I live in a densely populated portion of Mariemont, and I see deer wandering through here all the time, drinking out of the fountain, etc.

    I have also heard reports that there are coyotes and I have heard them on summer evenings- it makes me nervous knowing they are so near when there are always so many children and pets that walk and play all over the village.

    I have heard of Indian Hill allowing licensed hunters to hunt for deer as a measure to control the expanding deer population, but I believe that there are strict rules and regulations for hunting. Certainly the hunting expedition you described in your post sounds fishy- all village executive out bow-hunting without anyone else’s knowledge or approval… could very easily be perceived as an abuse of power. I don’t really like the hunting solution to control the population, but I also don’t know if there are better options…

    Interesting post though- thanks!

  2. It was actually a 9 point buck, shot very early in the season(the first week or two). If Asst Fire Cheif Morgan is a hunter, he’d understand that it isn’t always desirable to take a buck early in the season. I think he also knows, as do I, there are much bigger bucks down there…being shot by people sneaking on the property.
    Hamilton County parks has employed sharpshooters to thin the herds due to overpopulation in urban parks. If you don’t think deer can quickly overpopulate an area, check Mt. Airy Forest. The deer there are generally small, sickly looking and probably not healthy.
    I don’t know if there are too many deer in Mariemont, but there are a lot. When you see deer drinking in the fountain and/or bedding down in the afternoon in the center of town, I think you may be asking for problems. Deer usually live in the woods! Perhaps a localized outbreak of blue tongue could wipe out the deer in Mariemont as it has(in spots) just across the border in Indiana. At least everyone could sleep well at night knowing that no one was hunting them.
    As to the Coyote issue, they are more likely to eat your small cats/dogs as they are to bother people. They tend to stay away during daylight unless they are sick and desperate.
    Good luck.

  3. I was interested to read this series of articles, though obviously belatedly. I will attempt to past below the application form, available online, for the Hamilton County Park District’s request for the qualifications for hunters interested in participating in that organization’s bow hunting program. In that program, to follow up on some of the comments in these posts, the explicit target is to reduce the number of deer, and so female deer are the primary targets. The HCPD has had a gun program in existence since 2001 without adverse incident. I couldn’t tell from the post how long the HCPD’s bow hunting program has been in existence but I’d guess 4 years, and both have been widely praised for allowing populations to be reduced to the “carrying capacity” of 4 to 6 deer per square kilometer. Anecdotally (in other words, I don’t think anyone bothered to document it), before the deer culling program there wasn’t any native wildflowers or trees growing below the browse line. I’ll also try to past in a proposal from the City of Cincinnati for a deer culling program in 2005 (which I believe was rejected) which shows their projections of deer AFTER removal.
    Q
    Page 1
    Attention
    Bow Hunters!
    Volunteers Needed for Urban Deer
    Management
    The Hamilton County Park District is seeking qualified bow hunters to help
    control urban deer populations at Richardson Forest Preserve, Oak Glen Nature
    Preserve, Newberry Wildlife Sanctuary, north portion of Kroger Hills and
    northwest portion of Triple Creek during the 2009/2010 bow hunting season.
    Hunters will be selected by lottery and, if selected, must demonstrate the ability
    to place 4 out of 5 arrows in a 10″ diameter target from 20 yards. This
    qualification will be held on August 8th and 9th from 9:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. and
    you must have an invitation to participate. Selected bow hunters will be required
    to show proof of completing an approved State Hunter Education course and
    possess all required Ohio Hunting licenses and permits. Selected bow hunters
    must also attend a meeting to ensure understanding of safety regulations.
    *
    Preference will be given to Hamilton County residents who are
    not employed by the Park District.
    To apply, send attached Application Form and the non-refundable
    application fee for each person on the application to:
    ATTN: Controlled Bow Hunt
    Hamilton County Park District
    10245 Winton Road
    Cincinnati, Ohio 45231
    Completed applications must be received by 3:00 pm on July 13, 2009.
    You can also go to http://www.greatparks.org to download an application.
    (See additional information on back)
    Page 2
    Controlled Bow Hunt Questions and Answers – 2009-2010
    How are bow hunters selected?
    Bow hunters who were a successful antlerless deer hunter in 2008-2009 hunting season get
    in automatically after submitting one application. They are invited to qualify based on the
    number of does and then buttons they harvested in the previous season. Bow hunters who
    harvested an antlered deer only do not get in automatically and are part of the lottery system.
    Everyone else who applies for the 2009-2010 season is subject to the lottery and will be
    invited to the qualifications based on the random lottery drawing. All hunters are required to
    pass or show proof they have already passed a State Hunter Education course, possess a
    current Ohio hunting license and deer permit and be able to place at least four out of five
    arrows in a 10″ diameter target from an elevated position at 20 yards. Each hunter must also
    attend a brief meeting to ensure understanding of the safety regulations. The drawing will
    give preference to Hamilton County residents.
    What if a hunter has not passed a hunter education course or can not produce proof?
    A bow hunter can satisfy this requirement by passing the written portion of the Ohio Hunter
    Education course. A score of 80 out of 100 questions is required to pass. A complete review
    is available at: http://www.dnr.state.oh.us/wildlife/Hunting/huntered/hunted.htm
    Will I need Hunter’s Education before qualifications?
    Yes, you will be required to pass the Hunter Safety Education Course prior to your qualification time.
    Hunters can fill this requirement at the qualification site by arriving at least one hour before their
    qualification time to take the Hunter Safety Test. The test may only be offered on Saturday August 9

    .
    Where are the areas for bow hunting located?
    Richardson Forest Preserve (401 acres) near the intersection of Kemper Road and Lick
    Road, Triple Creek (90 acres) on Buell Road, Oak Glen (100 acres) on Thompson Road and
    Newberry Wildlife Sanctuary (100 acres) on Sheits Road in Colerain Township and at
    Kroger Hills (100 acres) on Wooster Pike in Terrace Park. Please check back for updates on
    hunting locations at this website after May 21, 2009. Hunters will receive topographic maps
    and aerial photos of the area that they select to hunt.
    How many hunters are allowed in each area?
    The quota for Richardson Forest Preserve is 16 hunters per two-week session. The quota for
    each of the other sites is four. This should maintain sufficient hunting pressure to reduce
    deer numbers without excessive crowding.
    How long is each hunter allowed to hunt?
    Successful antlerless deer hunters from the previous season qualify for up to four weeks of
    hunting time. All hunters who are part of the lottery are only eligible for a two week session
    during the 2009-2010 Ohio Deer Archery season

    http://city-egov.cincinnati-oh.gov/Webtop/ws/council/public/child/Blob/13395.pdf;jsessionid=8DA3AA49C3A145899DCC0E43C92986C0?rpp=-10&m=3&w=doc_no%3D'200510143

    Deer Population Estimates
    A 2001 aerial infrared study found the Mt. Airy Forest contained 274 deer and California Woods contained 10. Staff used POPII deer population modeling software to project our current population based on the 2001 study….. The 2005 modeling indicates that the Mt. Airy population has increased from 274 to 600 deer and California Woods has increased from 10 to 60 deer.
    The State Department of Wildlife recommends that a deer population should not exceed 15 deer per square mile. Deer calculated as the number per square mile indicates that Mt. Airy haas 260/square mile, and California Woods contains 340/square mile.
    ========================
    I wasn’t able to cut and paste in the table showing the impacts of removal after all, but if anyone is interested it is in the above link.

    • Q,

      Thanks for finding and sharing this information! The county’s program seems to model how a perceived deer problem can be defined, measured, and addressed with some transparency. Their shooting accuracy requirements and their efforts to disincentivize trophy hunters, highlight the distinction between recreation and management, which impacts the welfare of animals, and the success of the program.

  4. Pingback: Four Ways to Value a Goose: Animal Policy Lessons from Flight 1549 « Sentient Cincinnati

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