A handpicked team of bowhunters will take to two Pittsburgh city parks this weekend, hoping to reduce the local deer population.
Saturday will mark the first city-sanctioned hunt in Riverview and Frick parks as part of a pilot program designed to better manage the rapidly increasing number of deer.
City officials and the Pennsylvania Game Commission selected 30 hunters from a lottery to take part in the program. After completing accuracy tests last week, the city assigned the hunters to designated areas in the parks.
“These are archers who have passed a very good, tough test that eliminated quite a few [other] archers along the way in order to prove that they have the skills necessary,” said Maria Montaño, a spokesperson for Mayor Ed Gainey.
According to City Solicitor Krysia Kubiak, hundreds of archers applied to take the accuracy test, in which they had to hit narrow targets on three decoy deer at varying distances.
“If they missed even by a couple of inches … then they were disqualified,” she said.
According to Gainey’s office, the selected archers are all Allegheny County residents, about half of whom live in the city.
Beginning Sept. 30, those archers will be allowed to hunt Monday through Saturday at their convenience. The city will not allow any hunting on Sundays. But while as many as 15 archers could be tracking deer in each park, Kubiak said it’s unlikely that every qualified hunter will go out at once.
“They won’t necessarily all be hunting all at the same time,” she said, estimating that half a dozen archers might be out at any given time.
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Park users will have to get used to the idea of bowhunters in the area, though Erica Heide, a senior park ranger for the city, claimed that most park-goers won’t notice the archers.
“Most archers are not going to be where the people are. Because they want to be where the deer are,” Heide said. “You’re going to come to the parks and you’re not going to see these guys; they’re going to be up in their tree stands.”
Heide said crews will install warning signs this week in both parks informing park-goers about the hunt. Signs will be posted at entrances, near playgrounds, dog parks and other areas where people are likely to gather. Areas that will be off-limits to hunting include playgrounds like Blue Slide Park, park structures that include Frick Environmental Center in Frick Park and Riverview’s Allegheny Observatory. Dog parks will also be protected.
Archers will not be allowed to hunt within 50 yards of these areas
Given those limits on hunting, Kubiak said, city officials “do not think it will infringe upon people’s enjoyment of the parks.”
But she advised people coming to either park to take some precautions.
“It’s a good idea to wear bright colors and to be aware at the same time,” she said.
Archers are not permitted to gut or dress deer at the parks and will be required to take the animal off-site before harvesting. Hunters are required to shoot a doe first and donate that meat to a food bank program. After that, they can take as many deer as they have tags for.
After any successful hunt, Kubiak said, archers will “report back to [the city] on when they have taken a deer so that we have a sense of how this is proceeding.”
What’s the reason for hunting in city parks?
The administration has said the city’s deer population has multiplied to an unsustainable level, which has led to vegetation loss in local parks and hazards on neighborhood roadways. But the city has not designated a target number of deer to eliminate.
According to Kubiak, if 30 deer are eliminated, “That would be, I think, a successful hunt. Certainly, if we ended up culling maybe 60 or 90, that would be even better.”
City officials have said this fall’s pilot program will mainly collect data about deer populations to inform a larger hunting strategy next year. With earlier studies estimating a population of 500 deer in Frick Park alone, Kubiak conceded that by itself, taking a few dozen deer won’t make a sizable difference.
“It is really not enough to get it down to a sustainable number,” she said. “We’re going to need to do future hunts in order to get our numbers down.”
As an added incentive for the archers to take more deer, Kubiak said those who kill at least three will be invited back to hunt again.
Pittsburgh’s archery season will begin on Sept. 30 and run through December 9 before picking back up again on Dec. 26 and finishing Jan. 27.
According to Heide, state Game Commission officials and park rangers will be out in the parks to assist hunters and people enjoying other uses of the parks. She suggested that if residents witness any wildlife violations or archers too close to areas designated as out-of-bounds, they should get in touch with city park rangers.
“If there are any questions or concerns… we will be out there,” Heide said.