The Prince William Board of County Supervisors recently approved a pilot program to allow archers to hunt deer on county-owned property.
An ever-increasing deer population, a growing suburban environment in Prince William County and a loss of wildlife habitat all contribute to conflict between humans and deer. During a recent presentation, board members learned that the deer population has reached the point that it is having a negative effect on forest ecosystems, and automobile and deer collisions are on the rise. Deer can also carry ticks with Lyme disease.
The findings of a work group, which included the Virginia Cooperative Extension, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, along with the Prince William County Parks and Recreation, Public Works and Police departments, showed that limited deer hunting serves as a wildlife management tool that can help reduce conflict between deer and humans. Prince William County Police Capt. Chris Feather told the board that the group used data analysis and considered public health issues to come up with the recommendation for controlled hunts.
The work group recommended controlled hunts that would limit the number of hunters to select participants, as well as limit the number of hunting days and the areas to where hunting would be allowed. Additionally, the hunts would be limited to days when there are no other activities at the hunting sites, which include Doves Landing, Locust Shade Park and Rippon Lodge Historic Site. Firearms would not be used, and all archery hunting would be done from tree stands, to limit the range of the hunters' arrows. Hunts would run between 5:30 a.m. and 1 p.m., and county staff will be on the sites to monitor the hunts that will only occur during hunting season this fall. ""Our plan is to hold these hunts when the facilities would otherwise be closed. There will be controls in place," Feather told the board. "Safety is our foremost concern for everybody on site."
Before the controlled hunts could take place, the board would have to change the county code to allow for weapons use in the parks. State law regulates hunting, while county ordinances govern use of weapons. All state laws and local regulations would be followed during the hunts, which Feather said would have "minimal impact" on the parks and citizens.
A statewide study, conducted by Virginia Tech in 2013, showed that 74 percent of respondents in 15 counties, including Prince William County, supported legal, regulated deer hunting. The top concern of 87 percent of Prince William respondents was collisions between deer and vehicles. The study also showed that 83 percent of respondents in Prince William County were concerned with deer health, which suffers when deer overpopulate an area. Additionally, 72 percent of county respondents favored controlling deer populations to prevent agricultural damage, while 66 percent said forest ecosystem damage was reason enough to control the deer population. Respondents that cited tick-borne illnesses as a concern stood at 87 percent.
The next steps in the process will be finalizing the implementation of the plan and initiating the county code changes. Both are expected later this spring. This summer, the Police Department will select participants and conduct a public awareness campaign to let people know about the hunts. The pilot program is scheduled to be held this fall during hunting season.