The 72-year-old former hunter said he collected more than 200 signatures for a petition to this effect, mainly by visiting people in Orchard Glen and Forest River Nature parks in far south Fargo.
“The unloading of lethal weapons should not be allowed in parks occupied by the public,” the petition says.
The city established the Wildlife Management Program in 2007 to respond to residents’ complaints about a nuisance deer population affecting gardens and landscaping. Hunting is permitted on city-owned and park-owned plots along the Red River which runs from the far south of the city to the northern city limits and beyond.
Fargo resident Richard Thomas reported this sign on the Orchard Glen Nature Park entrance sign warning residents of archery season in the park. He said the words “Enter at your own risk!” were particularly alarming. Photo submitted / Courtesy of Richard Thomas
Fargo Police Chief David Zibolski, who took on the role in 2020, has raised concerns about the program as he sees it as a potential security hazard. In August, a study group created by city leaders to examine the benefits and risks of the program recommended keeping it, but with some proposed safety measures for hunters and the elimination of turkey hunting. . The current season started on September 1 and will end on January 31.
With more residents using riverside parks and trails than at the start of the program, urban hunting presents a greater danger, says Thomas.
“We believe that the risk for users of the park is too high,” he said in a telephone interview. “This is downright unacceptable.”
The formerly undeveloped parks, some of which only formed after the purchase of flooded houses along the river, have trails and parking lots and are “heavily used,” Thomas said, adding: “The situation has exchange”.
Many now use the parks for activities such as walking, running, biking, wildlife viewing, snowshoeing, and skiing. Thomas said he saw hundreds of cars in parking lots and along roadsides near parks in southern Fargo while collecting signatures over Labor Day weekend.
Zibolski, who was initially in favor of stopping hunting in the parks for public safety reasons, told city officials he planned to present the issue at the city committee meeting on October 18.
After the Chief of Police’s initial presentation a few months ago, when he said he opposed urban hunting due to the city’s growing population and increased use of land by residents, the Commission municipal government decided to hold a separate public hearing on the issue of urban hunting. City leaders then appointed an advisory committee to assess the issues surrounding the hunt.
At the hearing and at one panel meeting, the prevailing feeling was that the program should continue, albeit with perhaps some changes.
Fargo Police Lt. Mathew Sanders, who has led the wildlife management program for several years, said permits typically sell out in three to four minutes when offered online each June.
Archery hunter Brian Zastoupil, who was on the panel, said harvesting 353 deer over the past 15 years – an average of around 23 per year – shows it can help manage the herd.
Another member, Paul Speral of the North Dakota Bowhunter’s Association, said the program was effective, extremely safe and invisible. He added that there had been no accidents in 15 years, and passers-by would sometimes not even notice hunters in their stands of trees.
Jeb Williams, a North Dakota Game and Fish Department panelist, said he believed public acceptance of the program was “pretty high.”
He said it was a good “maintenance program” for the prolific deer herd and that the cultural experience of hunting in the state was “much appreciated”.
Thomas, however, has said he will not give up his fight and will continue to collect signatures.