Fort Smith Board approves urban hunting program

story by Aric Mitchell

The Fort Smith Board of Directors voted for the passage of an urban bowhunting program to control the city’s deer population Tuesday night (Jan. 15).

The 4-3 vote occurred at the Fort Smith Public Schools Service Center and emphasized two opposing views to the need for public safety. Because the board failed to secure five votes, the ordinance must also pass second and third readings before final approval.

On the affirmative side were Directors Andre Good, Keith Lau, Mike Lorenz and Kevin Settle. George Catsavis, Philip Merry and Pam Weber dissented.

The vote occurred after a previous motion was shot down 4-3 to table for 90 days at the request of Catsavis in order to respond to safety concerns. Good said he was not for tabling because “we have plenty of information before us to make a decision.”

That information included the following.
• Only bows and arrows will be permitted – no firearms or crossbows;
• The permitted hunting area will cover only the land at Chaffee Crossing;
• The hunter must be in a deer stand at least 10 feet off the ground;
• Hunting on foot or with the use of dogs is strictly prohibited;
• Qualified hunters must attend safety classes through Arkansas Game and Fish;
• Each hunter must successfully complete a test and possess a hunting license; and,
• If private property falls within the permitted area as determined by the Fort Smith Police Department, the hunter must have written permission from the property owner on his person.

Weber acknowledged previous comments during the meeting that she “was a mother first” and that “one is too many” regarding any injury or fatality as a result of a hunting accident.

“The woods are the first place the boys in my family would go,” Weber said.

Weber’s fear was shared by at least one in the audience. Fort Smith resident Sam Phillips, who described himself as “an avid deer hunter,” agreed.

“What you’ll have are some (hunters) who can really do it right, but you’ll have others who don’t,” Phillips said. “I feel sorry for the responsible hunters, but one death is too many.”

On Tuesday, Weber also expressed her belief that urban deer hunting at Chaffee Crossing sent the wrong message about the city’s intentions for the development.

“We’ve spent a lot of money developing Chaffee Crossing to make that a recreational area,” Weber said. “Every weekend there is a 5K or people walking their dogs. There are just lots of recreational activities out there, and that’s what we need to be promoting. Not this.”

Arkansas Game and Fish representative Ralph Meeker responded that “part of recreation is responsibly managing the resources that are there.”

“I have seen high deer populations where disease has run rampant, and a good balanced deer herd that is healthy with its habitat is the best kind of recreation you can have in my opinion,” Meeker said.

“I know there is a deer problem created by lack of hunting space where we’re starting to develop houses,” added Lorenz. “This changes nothing, other than it makes a small, select area chosen by the Chief of Police legal for legitimate hunters to go hunt.”

Lorenz believed passage of the urban deer hunt program “would not solve hunting problems that are already there, nor would it create new problems.”

Also Tuesday, the board agreed to spend $287,500 in drainage improvements for a Mercy Health development at Waldron Road. The item was part of the board’s consent agenda and was the only item that did not pass unanimously.

The one dissenting vote was Catsavis, who agreed with developer Rocky Walker that city involvement should be “the same for everyone.”

In September 2012, the board shot down Walker and development partner Aaron Wirth for Free Ferry Commons, a 56-unit multi-family development, which would have been located at 900 S. Waldron Road. The reason cited at the time was for “incompatibility of the development” with the surrounding area as well as “parking and density concerns,” Walker told The City Wire in December 2012.

On Tuesday, Walker asked for “consistency” in how the board distributes taxpayer dollars to development projects.

“I don’t know if the city paying for half their improvements is the right thing for the taxpayer. I am for the jobs and for the project, but it would be nice to get some consistency in how we do things,” Walker said.

Catsavis agreed. “There are other developers in the city who promote the city with jobs, property taxes, whatever, and I don’t think this is fair to them that other developers don’t get this kind of consideration. We need to be consistent with everybody who does developments as Mr. Walker has said.”