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Sharpshooters to cull deer in Springbrook Prairie preserve

A sign warns trail users about DuPage Forest Preserve Deer Management Program occurring Springbrook Prairie Preserve Naperville this winter. Two

A sign warns trail users about a DuPage Forest Preserve Deer Management Program occurring at the Springbrook Prairie Preserve in Naperville this winter. Two joggers use the trail near Book Road and 87th Street after the night closure. | Steven Buyansky~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 14, 2012 8:06AM

The DuPage County Forest Preserve District has launched its yearly deer culling program in the Springbrook Prairie preserve in southwestern Naperville.

A similar deer culling program took place last year in a Kane County Forest Preserve near Carpentersville.

Runners, walkers and cyclists who use Springbrook preserve are receiving a heads-up via red and white signs giving notice of the wildlife management undertaking. Visitors are warned to stay out of the preserve from one hour after sunset until at least an hour after sunrise, as sharpshooters target the deer.

The culling will continue through March 30, with a goal of removing up to 55 deer.

Neighbors of Springbrook report frequent deer sightings, sometimes phoning in concerns to the city. According to Joanne Aul, the city’s animal control supervisor, the numbers have held steady over the past couple of years.

“Generally, there may be a dozen or so calls throughout the year, as far as deer that are in the yard eating certain kinds of plants or maybe taking the bark off the trees,” Aul said.

Marty Jones, who manages the Urban Deer Project for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, said areas of the most dense deer habitation — in some places up to 100 per square mile — are most likely to exhibit browse lines. Those show up in a void of vegetation everywhere deer can reach. In decimating the food supply for creatures that rely on low-growing plants, the deer don’t just threaten certain vegetative species; they also throw the food chain off balance and do damage to local ecosystems.

“They can literally eat themselves out of house and home, but they’re also interfering with the survival of these smaller animals,” Jones said.

In the headlights

The survival of the deer is also at risk when their numbers swell. The Illinois Department of Transportation reported that there were 17,135 deer-vehicle accidents recorded during 2010, including 10 in which humans died.

“This time of year, I always find myself watching the side of the road for the reflective eye shine of the deer, rather than looking on the road itself,” Jones said.

Partly because there is a greater concentration of road travel in major population centers, some of the highest incidences of crashes with deer involved are in this part of the state. The top 10 counties include first-ranked Cook, with 562 reports last year; fifth-place Will, with 396; and Kane, which counted 325 and came in ninth.

DuPage County tallied the fewest reports of car-deer incidents among northern Illinois counties for the past three years, said Bill Weidner, the forest preserve’s public affairs director. Last year there were 130 reported crashes involving deer in the county; in 2009 there were 150. That is about the norm statewide.

Danger of disease

Disease is also a danger in areas heavily populated by deer.

Some of the deer brought down by the contracted sharpshooters in western DuPage are randomly screened by the state for Chronic Wasting Disease. While there have been no reports of humans being infected, the potentially fatal neurological condition is contagious among deer and elk.

“We’ve been testing since 2002, and at this point in time — knock on wood — we have not found any cases of CWD,” said Weidner, noting that several cases have turned up in Kane and Grundy counties in the past couple of years.

Last winter, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources culled about 60 deer from Kane County to test for CWD after a deer tested positive for the disease in the area of Binnie Woods Forest Preserve near Carpentersville.

Officials said the testing helps the agency monitor the spread of the disease to keep entire herds from being wiped out.

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