‘Deer’ neighbors

I have a suggestion for Chatham County, Bald Head Island and other North Carolina locales faced with the vexing problem of deer overpopulation. Attempts by many of these communities to eliminate these intrusive animals have been stymied by the meddling of the state Wildlife Resources Commission. On numerous occasions, the commission has chosen to block such large scale kills, citing so-called “environmental concerns.” Happily, however, these communities now have a highly effective and workable solution to the problem — thanks in large part to the efforts of our own good neighbors to the south, the worthy residents of Biltmore Forest, and their friend and close ally state Rep. Trudi Walend.

Twice denied permission by the wildlife commission to use lethal force to reduce local herds, frustrated Biltmore Forest officials last year turned to Rep. Walend for help. A lot of politicians might have shied away from such a controversial matter, but Walend readily accepted the challenge of righting the terrible injustice being perpetrated against residents of the Forest. It was truly heartwarming to see the zeal with which Rep. Walend tackled this problem, never sparing herself until the mission was accomplished.

First, she sent a strongly worded letter to the WRC announcing a meeting to review the commission’s rejection of town officials’ repeated requests to kill the deer en masse. According to the letter, the meeting would give Biltmore Forest “the opportunity to be heard” regarding the matter. The letter was signed by Walend and the six other members of the Buncombe County legislative delegation, as well as Mecklenburg County Rep. Jim Gulley.

The meeting was held last summer in Raleigh. Within weeks, the commission did a complete about-face, dropping its staunch opposition to the use of lethal force to remove the deer. Besides allowing the kill to go forward, the commissioners went a step further, lifting virtually all restrictions on how the animals could be slaughtered. Guns, knives, bows and arrows — all were now deemed acceptable ways to destroy the herds. Better yet, the WRC authorized Biltmore Forest’s local police force to do the job, thus saving the town the tens of thousands of dollars it might have cost to hire an outside professional to do the job.

The decision highlights the terrible confusion afflicting WRC members when, on two separate occasions, they overwhelmingly voted against the use of lethal force. The commission had apparently labored under the mistaken assumption that it and it alone is responsible for issuing a final ruling on such matters. But what the commissioners failed to understand is that such rulings are never final until all parties — including, in this case, both Biltmore Forest and Rep. Walend herself — say they are. Besides producing a positive outcome for the town, the Raleigh meeting had the added benefit of putting some high-handed state political appointees in their place.

Having been squarely called on their blunder by Walend, commission members are unlikely to make the same mistake anytime soon. This puts communities looking for a quick fix to their wildlife woes in an especially strong position. Because no matter how strongly the commission might oppose the lethal solution, it’s now become abundantly clear that with the right kind of friendly persuasion, the WRC can be made to change its collective mind. And the really great thing about all this is that the corrective action being contemplated doesn’t even need to have the widespread support of the local community.

Nor does it have to include any complicated long-range objectives, such as changing the conditions that led to the overpopulation in the first place. All that’s really required, as was amply proven here, is for a few dedicated residents to band together and demand that their state representatives do something. To be sure, professional cynics (and the Lexus-envious) may argue that the fact that this case involved one of the wealthiest, most politically connected communities in the state had something to do with the alacrity with which Rep. Walend took up the cause and the vigor and determination with which she pursued it.

But this jaded argument is terribly wrong. Any fair examination of the facts will clearly show that power, social prestige, political influence and money played no significant role in how the case played out. The simple fact is that killing these pesky animals in large numbers not only affords Forest residents a quick and cost-effective solution to their problem, it’s actually what’s best for the deer themselves.

Of course, there are always those naysayers who’ll argue that shooting and spearing the animals provides only a short-term solution and that, within a few years, residents will once again face the same problem. Others may object to the removal method, noting that bow hunting, especially in the hands of amateurs, is notoriously inexact and that deer not killed instantly will be left to escape back into the forest, where they’ll come to a slow, agonizing end by bleeding to death. Still other troublemakers may insist that better, more effective solutions were available to town officials, such as erecting an unobtrusive, inexpensive fence around the border of the forest, (as the wildlife commission had previously recommended).

But all of these so-called solutions share at least one glaring central flaw: They would take longer, cost more and perhaps require some small sacrifice on the part of Biltmore Forest residents. Simply shooting and spearing large numbers of the animals, on the other hand, eliminates the immediate problem of hungry deer coming into neighborhoods to munch on expensive ornamental foliage while asking almost nothing of Forest residents. Who among us wouldn’t favor the latter option?

Admittedly, the good citizens of Biltmore Forest are far better off than most of us. They live in big houses, take expensive vacations, and drive pricey cars. Far from succumbing to envy or jealousy, however, I think we ought to be grateful to these people. After all, they’re the ones who fuel that vital, life-sustaining engine known as our national economy. And without them and their hefty capital investments, we might, like the deer, quickly find ourselves without a home or food to feed our families.

Not to put too fine a point on it, let’s just say that rather than entangling Forest residents in a lengthy and tedious nonlethal solution to the deer problem, we should instead endorse their efforts to resolve the whole mess as quickly and cheaply as possible, thus allowing them — and us — to get back to the real business of running our lives (and our businesses).

Beyond all this, of course, lies the ethical question of who really owns the forest anyway — the people who hold deeds to the property or the four-footed mammals now invading that same real estate? But this issue, too, can be quickly put to rest. To quote Forest homeowner and investor David Schulman’s memorable turn of phrase, when push comes to shove in these matters, “Humans must rule.”

Rep. Walend, of course, foresaw all this last summer, way before the rest of us. Thus, she wisely intervened because she knew that circumventing the troublesome barriers the wildlife commission had erected to prevent the removal of a dirty, disease-prone (and, quiet frankly, virtually devoid of commercial value) population of wild animals from the pristine streets of Biltmore Forest would ultimately benefit us all, once again making those shady byways safe for bright-eyed young Carolina Day students (who are, after all, our future) to play in.

It’s a vision that worked for us, and by golly, it can work for others too. Chatham County, are you listening?

[Joe Elliott lives in Arden.]

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