Urban deer hunt No. 2 story of the year

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The contentious Eureka Springs urban deer hunt, approved by voters in 2010, chewed up enough hours of City Council time and enough inches of ink in the paper to be our No. 9 story of the year.

Although the city's deer are a tourist draw and popular with many residents, the herd has created problems for years, both in terms of vehicular accidents and in lost ornamental landscaping. Sterilizing or moving the deer population not being possible, critics of the deer overpopulation problem in the city had advocated a hunt for years as the best/most economical way of dealing with the issue.

A referendum on the issue in 2002 failed to find enough voters to pass, but a decade later the problem had not gone away, and this time around the measure succeeded.

The bow hunt was originally scheduled for Sept. 15 - Oct. 7. After a break for the fall tourism season, the hunt was to have resumed Nov. 10, and end Feb. 28.

Aldermen raise safety concerns

Aldermen Karen Lindblad, Lany Ballance, Ken Pownall and others were concerned primarily about safety issues and argued the extended length of the hunt was not what people had anticipated when they voted for the hunt.

According to the city, hunters were checked with the state for hunting violations prior to being approved for this special hunt. Hunters who applied after the initial 15 were chosen were placed on a waiting list in the order in which they were approved.

All approved hunters must have provided a copy of written permission to the city from the property owner(s) where the hunter will be hunting. All does must be harvested and checked in through AG&F online at www.agfc.com or by telephone at 866-305-0808. Proof of the harvest must have been provided to the city before a hunter could harvest a buck or receive another doe tag. Doe tags issued by the city do count against a hunter's bag limit. The city has 50 doe tags to be issued during this season. All hunters must hold a valid Arkansas Sportsman's license. Hunters born prior to Ja. 1, 1969, must also have a valid Hunter Education card.

A list of city property owners who wished to participate in the hunt was put together and made available to the public.

Council overturns election, almost

The real wrangling over the hunt began at the council's Aug. 6 meeting, when, in an effort to move forward, council compromised enough to vote to follow through with only the second half of the hunt, Nov. 10 -- Feb. 8.

At its Aug. 27 meeting, however, in an effort to end the hunt, Ballance and Lindblad put forward a motion and seconded it to proceed with the voter-approved hunt; they then voted against their own motion, and, lacking votes to pass without their votes, the motion died.

This move brought protests from Aldermen James DeVito and Butch Berry, who had been absent at the critical vote; further, it came to light at the next meeting that council had put itself in the position of having overturned a legal election with its voting maneuver and created uproar from outraged citizenry, who showed up in large numbers to express themselves on the subject.

City Attorney Tim Weaver explained to them what they had done wrong. "When the council debated the deer hunt issue at its Aug. 13 meeting," Weaver said, "the council voted to approve the second set of dates for the hunt, which are Nov. 10 to Feb. 28, and voted to do away with the first set of dates, which were to have been Sept. 15-Oct. 7."

According to Weaver, although council could still place varying conditions on the hunt at that point, they were bound legally to proceed with the hunt as they voted earlier, therefore nullifying the actions they later took in letting it die on the table.

Unwilling to back down, Ballance and Lindblad continued to push for overturning the referendum.

"It's come to my attention that the procedure used to get this on ballot [originally] may have been flawed, the time lapse between it being put on the ballot and the vote may not be in compliance with state statue," Ballance said. "The ballot issue itself contains language that is impossible to deliver. The proposed hunt is most certainly not the hunt the people voted on. And I have it on reasonably good authority that there are funds available right now and people willing to bring this in to litigation if it continues."

Lindblad described the whole thing as a "total miscarriage of justice" and continued to insist the people who voted for the deer hunt had no real idea what they were voting for.

"Quit tearing open old wounds"

At that point, Alderman Parker Raphael urged the council to "quit tearing open old wounds and picking at old scabs," and council voted 4-0-2 (four in favor, zero against, with Lany Ballance and Karen Lindblad abstaining) to take the issue off the table and send it on to the mayor for implementation.

Despite continued protests against the hunt, up to and including concerned citizens walking up and down in front of participating property owner's homes banging pots and pans together to scare, the hunt began as scheduled on Nov. 10. At year's end, less than a dozen does had been harvested.

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