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Take a Walk on the Wildwood Side

By John Burbridge

Ever take a wrong turn and suddenly find yourself in the wrong neighborhood?

I somewhat had that experience while covering the Trent Smith Memorial Cross Country Invitational last month at Wildwood Golf Course.

While scoping the 5K course landscape for photo opportunities, I suddenly found myself in the company of five or six or seven deer.

(I remind myself of the Welcome Back, Kotter episode where Freddie “Boom Boom” Washington tells his fellow “Sweathogs” of facing down a gang of rival-school roughnecks … “There were seven of them!” Seven? “Well, seven or two.”)

Anyway, there were more of them than just one of me. I was the only two-legged creature in that part of the park as the junior high races going on at the time didn’t encompass the area. They all took notice of me, not with “deer in the headlights” looks, but with glowering stares. They knew they had the drop on me as well as superior size and numbers to boot.

They let me pass unscathed, and even allowed me to take some photos of them. It wasn’t until human reinforcements arrived that they decided to bolt into the adjacent woods, vanishing completely like leaping through a portal into another dimension.

Recently the Charles City City Council voted 5-0 to allow bow hunters to each harvest one deer with a tag to control the population and limit a herd that is destroying several greens on the century-old links.

The bow hunt will start Nov. 1 after the golf course is closed for the season and a lottery system will determine the six hunters who will have access to the course. Hunters would be limited to harvesting one deer (doe or buck) each and would each have a week to do so.

Currently, there is a petition to prevent this harvest. As of Sept. 30, it has garnered more than 9,700 electronic signatures, though not all from Charles City (obviously) or even Iowa.

A little disclosure. I’m not a hunter. If I were, I could be classified as a psychopath — a fitting reference for a vegetarian who hunts.

And yes … another disclosure … I’m a vegetarian. Have been that way for more than 30 years. It’s not a diet fad for me.

But I grant myself exceptions when it comes to pizzas I don’t purchase for myself. Whenever offered for free, I’ll eat most any pizza no matter what the toppings. I was recently offered and accepted several slices of Casey’s Midwest Mystery Pizza that included pulled pork. There’s a contest to name this pizza. “Porky Pie” is my entry.

Even if Casey’s had a “Cannibal Combo Special”, I’d probably try it (if offered). Just hold the eyeballs in favor of mushrooms.

Though I don’t hunt, I’m ambivalent about hunting. I don’t adamantly or even tepidly support it, but whenever driving back home from Decorah after sunset, my sentiments tend to sway closer to pro-hunting voting bloc. This is usually prompted by repeated close calls with deer on the roadway. “They’re not killing enough of them!” I more than once have road raged.

One of the reasons for the increased human contact with deer is the infringement of the animals’ habitat. Among the stronger arguments against the pending deer harvest at Wildwood is that the recent renovations to the course have taken away their normal cover.

A dearth of natural predators has been attributed to the proliferation of deer.

Yellowstone National Park enacted a policy to hunt down the gray wolves in the park because of their menacing reputation. One of the unintended consequences was that elk were able to congregate in one spot without much seasonal movement and feed off budding willow, aspen and cottonwood trees, stunting and even stopping their growth.

The gray wolves were later reintroduced in the mid-1990s and the park’s trees were able to make a recovery. Rest assured, it didn’t require a mass slaughter of “Bambis” by the “Big Bad Wolves” — a single howl can scatter a herd of deer before they can decimate a future forest.

This uproar — or howls — over the pending Wildwood deer harvest has reached a point of hyperbole, or “overkill” if you can excuse the irony. Those select few (six) chosen hunters only allowed to take one deer each will have that counted on their annual quotas. Thus, these will not be “bonus” kills.

Though it will be the first time in the public course’s 100-plus-year history that it will host a deer hunt, hunting — from what I understand — takes place throughout the state.

Deer hunting has been credited with managing the population, mitigating crop damage and making roadways at least a little safer.

Here, it will be used to possibly prevent more damage to the park after renovations by the city in the name of making the 9-hole course less congested and more appealing to residents and guests while possibly enticing future residents.

Other non-lethal remedies have been proposed, but the presence of hunters may end up being a non-lethal one itself as it could — like a Yellowstone gray wolf howl — encourage the deer to move on before one of them gets bagged.

Rather than just targeting the park department’s pragmatic approach to Wildwood’s deer problem, if this growing protest stood against hunting as a whole I might take it more seriously. Maybe even support it.

Except on days I have to travel to and from Decorah.