The St. Louis County Council on Tuesday decided to allow bow hunters to have controlled deer hunts in county parks, a move spurred by deer overpopulation affecting homeowners.
Councilman Mark Harder’s bill passed 5-2 and will now go to County Executive Sam Page’s desk. Its passage came over opposition from county residents who contend the legislation is inhumane.
Harder said his bill would allow Missouri Department of Conservation to organize bow hunts at county parks. He stressed that these hunts would occur when the parks are closed, adding, “This isn’t a blank check to just go out and bow hunt deer anywhere.”
“We'll have recommendations by the Department of Conservation on where the deer population is the greatest,” said Harder, R-Ballwin. “And they will make some recommendations to this council in the next month or so. And then we'll pick parks where we think that would be helpful to cull the deer.”
He said the legislation is in response to complaints from homeowners who live around the parks in his west county district.
“When the population gets to a breaking point in that park, the deer leave the park and go into the surrounding subdivisions looking for food, looking for shelter,” Harder said. “So we're trying to go to the source of where the population is, so that we can manage it better in those areas.”
Before council members voted on Harder’s bill, a number of people spoke against it during the council’s public forum. Leanne Fritsch said the legislation is cruel.
“The deer this bill would allow for killing are not populations,” Fritsch said. “They are individuals with only one life given to them. From their behavior, it’s clear that each of them want to go on living just as much as we do. Yet this bill would treat their lives like they did not matter, making some pay with their lives for purposes that are ours alone.”
Bill Ash said he was concerned that an arrow wouldn’t kill a deer instantly and could result in a slow and agonizing death for the animal.
“And it would require that the hunter hunt down and follow and track the deer wherever it goes in order to finish it off,” Ash said. “We wouldn’t kill human beings this way. We would call this cruel and unusual punishment.”
For his part, Harder said he understands the concerns of the bill’s critics. But he said that the people who will participate in the bow hunts are well-trained and experienced.
“It's a very close-up type of archery, because of the distance the arrows have to fly,” Harder said. "This isn't like shooting where you could shoot from, you know, three blocks away. These folks do this almost every weekend of the year. It's very organized, very coordinated. These are highly trained volunteers.”
Councilwomen Rochelle Walton Gray, D-Blackjack, and Rita Days, D-Bel-Nor, voted against Harder’s bill.
Budget nearly finished
Also on Tuesday, council members passed most of the county’s roughly $622 million operating budget. Harder noted that the council is ahead of schedule compared to last year, which featured an intense showdown between council members and then-County Executive Steve Stenger.
Council Presiding Officer Ernie Trakas, R-south St. Louis County, said the budget was still challenging to put together this year. But he added things were “better organized” this year than in 2018.
“We had certainly great communication between the administration and the council,” Trakas said. “So that, you know, was not present last year. And so it was just because of that communication we were able to reach consensus on most of the bills sooner.”
Trakas noted there aren’t great changes in the individual department budgets next. One exception is a $5 million increase in the parks department budget, which Trakas said will be spent on capital improvement projects.
“There weren't any huge increases or huge additional requests for significantly greater funding,” Trakas said. “So it wasn't like we had to take a hard look at the county executive’s recommended budget and make huge cuts.”
One item that Trakas said was not included in the budget was roughly $1.9 million for additional county police officers to patrol MetroLink. He said he would like the city of St. Louis to pay for those officers — or for Bi-State Development, which operates MetroLink, to pay for them out of its security or operations budget. Council members are slated to vote on the legislation that encompasses MetroLink funding next week.
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