Saturday, August 23, 2003

Cemetery wants its deer departed

Suburb expected to OK hunting

By Sheila McLaughlin
The Cincinnati Enquirer

MONTGOMERY - When a resident used a bow and arrow to kill a pesky deer last year on Ross Avenue, the animal's bloody and public death was enough to make city officials outlaw hunting in this eastern Hamilton County suburb.

Someone could get hurt, they said. And people in the neighborhood were in an uproar after seeing the deer run through yards before it collapsed and died.

Now, that ban is about to be lifted. But not for everyone.

Plagued by a herd of deer that is tearing up landscaping on its 240 acres, Gate of Heaven Cemetery at Montgomery Road and Interstate 275 wants an exemption from the year-old law.

If council grants permission as expected next month, two Montgomery police officers will be the only people allowed to hunt deer inside city limits during season, and only at the cemetery.

"They eat all of our flowers, all of our shrubbery and any branch and any leaf on a branch that they can reach," cemetery director David Bondi said of the deer that have ravaged his domain. "The kicker is, someone will come and put flowers in a vase, and they come and they bite the blossom right off the top of it."

Council member Ken Suer said no one in the city is opposed to giving Gate of Heaven a break. But the city doesn't intend to open hunting to everyone.

"The biggest concern that we have is that people might think they are great hunters," Suer said. "But, when they start hunting in their yard, there is a tremendous possibility of some neighbor getting shot, or some child - all because of a nuisance."

But at least one resident wants to see the city relax the ban to allow controlled hunting in residential areas.

"They are all over the place. It's getting worse and worse," said Dave Knable, who questions whether the destruction of the Johnson Nature Preserve in the 1999 tornado might have pushed the deer farther into the neighborhoods.

So far, two big dogs and a fence have helped ward off the whitetails from Knable's Thumbelina Lane yard, where he and his wife, Gerry, plant about $300 worth of flowers each year.

Hunting in urban areas isn't unusual, although some cities, such as Blue Ash, restrict it by outlawing the discharge of guns or firing of arrows within city limits.

In woodsy Indian Hill, however, select bow hunters receive permits from police to hunt private properties. Hamilton County parks are so overrun by deer that officials are planning again to send rangers out at night to shoot mature does with rifles. Sharpshooters killed 522 deer in three parks last winter, park district spokesman Jim Rahtz said.

Even the city of Cincinnati allows bow hunting when it's in season, Hamilton County Wildlife Officer Mike Serio said.

"If Montgomery passed a law saying its not (legal), it's not. But, deer are a problem throughout the county, and one way of keeping them in control is through our hunting season," Serio said.

No one could estimate the deer population in Hamilton County, but it's only a snapshot of a larger problem. Statewide, the numbers have exploded, up 40 percent since 1998 to 575,000. A clear indication of Hamilton County's population is that the county ranks fifth in the state for deer-related crashes, Rahtz said.

Bondi said he was caught by surprise last year when Montgomery council outlawed all hunting.

He couldn't estimate how many deer call the cemetery home, but added: "They are kind of like roaches. If you see one, there are a hundred in the wall.

"If you let the deer herd run wild, they would be all over (Interstate) 275, and it is just a whole lot better for our people if we can control them a bit."

The two police officers had been hunting the cemetery for about three years, taking about a dozen deer off the property each bow season, which runs Oct. 4-Jan. 31. The officers donate all meat to local food banks, he said.

Bondi doesn't intend to open the cemetery up to other hunters when the law is changed.

"We don't want a bunch of people out there firing in different directions. This is not open hunting," he said.

The amendment, which could go into effect just in time for bow season, would place enough controls on hunting to keep it safe, Police Chief Kirk Nordbloom said.

Hunting is permitted only when the cemetery is closed, and not within 100 yards from a residence. "This isn't something where they issue 100 permits and say, 'Hey. Go out and clear out the deer population,' " Nordbloom said. "It's pretty limited."


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