"Man is in the forest."
So warned a worried mother to her son as a single gunshot rang through the trees.
The mother, of course, was a doe and her somber portent was directed to a fawn named Bambi. Straight from Walt Disney Studios (where deer can talk), this scene in the 1942 movie "Bambi" has tugged at the heartstrings of Americans for 70 years.
The 21st century sequel is in the making, but things are a bit more complicated this time around. The setting is not the Disney studios, but the woods of northern Illinois. There doesn't appear to be a director on the set, and the actors are not reading the same script. The deer in this drama are on the sidelines, playing second fiddle to the human stars of the show.
And the most confusing thing about this production is that the central conflict isn't as simple as Man-vs.-Bambi. In fact, it's hard to tell who the good guy is or if there is a bad guy.
First, a synopsis. The controversy centers on an Illinois Department of Natural Resources study in northern Kane County. The IDNR launched this multiyear project in 2000 to test for the presence of chronic wasting disease, or CWD, in white-tailed deer. The goal of the study is to track the spread of CWD. In so doing, the IDNR will have a basis for determining measures to prevent the advance of the disease. Wildlife biologists will also be able to gauge the effectiveness of their efforts.
The study involves sampling deer in areas that include forest preserve district property in Kane County. Wishing to continue the research in this longitudinal study, the IDNR recently approached the District to request permission to sample deer in select forest preserves this winter.
So far so good. There's a little catch, however. Samples can only be obtained from deer once they're dead. The study thus requires sharpshooters to kill deer in order to obtain samples. And killing deer, on film or in real life, is a hot-button issue.
The plot thickens as opposition to the study brews in Rutland Township. Numerous residents have formed a group called the North Rutland Deer Alliance. Their primary concern is that the IDNR study will reduce the size of the herd, therefore compromising their deer-watching experience and/or their ability to hunt. These folks vehemently oppose sampling
e.g., killing deer.
To halt the killing, the Deer Alliance has brought up all manner of accusations about the IDNR's track record, methods, and motives. The IDNR has answered accusations and questions about sampling methods and the science of the study. The agency has assured the Deer Alliance that there is no motive other than sound, scientifically-based wildlife management.
IDNR's wildlife biologists have used maps, graphs, and statistical tables to support their case. Members of the Deer Alliance have pulled out numbers of their own. Biologists have talked in terms of epidemiology, and opponents have responded in veterinary-speak. Words like prion and vector, population density and cervid mortality have been bandied about. Many people, regardless of training or profession, have jumped on the science bandwagon to make their case.
The debate, however, is not about science at all. It's not about sampling methods, population biology, habitat carrying capacity, or statistics. The issue is people. Wildlife management is always about people. …