Halt to Mill Creek deer hunt shot down
YOUNGSTOWN — A court magistrate on Friday denied a preliminary injunction to stop a deer hunt from taking place at Mill Creek MetroParks properties.
The four people who filed the lawsuit to stop the hunt already filed an appeal in the 7th District Court of Appeals to Mahoning County Common Pleas Court Magistrate Nicole Alexander’s decision. They are being represented by Attorney Marc Dann of Lakewood.
“This is just the first inning of a nine-inning game,” Dann said in response to the ruling.
A daylong hearing regarding the lawsuit took place Thursday in the courtroom of Judge Anthony Donofrio.
Alexander said in her ruling she denied the injuction because she found Mill Creek MetroParks to be protecting biodiversity and preventing a negative impact on the environment and the court couldn’t make judgment for the park if the park felt it was for purposes of preservation and protecting biodiversity.
Also, she stated that plaintiffs — Donald Allen, James Cliff, Katherine Hamilton and Paul Chicone — couldn’t prove they would suffer irreparable harm from the deer hunt program, that any third parties would be unjustifiably harmed or that the public interest would be served by the injunction. The plaintiffs also couldn’t prove that the hunt was illegal, according to Alexander’s ruling.
The magistrate also ruled that the park and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources were conducting the program for purposes of protection, preservation, propagation, possession and management, over which the ODNR has complete control. ODNR has authority in all matters of wildlife.
Expert witness Denny Malloy, who testified extensively Thursday, has worked for the national nonprofit deer management and conservation organization Whitetails Unlimited for 24 years and also worked eight years as a state wildlife officer for the Ohio Division of Wildlife in Cuyahoga and Trumbull counties and worked three summers for Mill Creek MetroParks.
Malloy said he was disappointed with the decision to deny the injunction, but he was not surprised.
“I still believe the way they are doing the culling is irresponsible and based on a lie,” he said. “Although I believe in hunting, the numbers they are culling are wrong, they are going to overshoot. I think next year it’s gonna be hard for us to find deer in Mill Creek Park by the time they’re done.”
Malloy said he has a problem with the MetroParks’ deer reduction plan because “it came from a “statistical study based on thermal imaging from a camera that I believe is flawed. The park district concluded that there are close to 385 deer per square mile, which has never been heard of in any wildlife population regarding white-tailed deer species anywhere in America.
“That would be the equivalent of me saying there are 3,000 people in this courtroom right now,” Malloy said.
The room was nearly filled to capacity, but that comprised only about 40 people.
Malloy testified that Mill Creek MetroParks should delay its deer-management plan a year or two to “do a better study, implement a more scientific study, more biological study.”
Malloy said he was “saddened” the magistrate handled the case instead of the judge.
“Her ruling today proves that it was way beyond her capabilities,” he said. “A magistrate is not elected by the people. I didn’t think she understood the facts as well as she could have.”
ODNR approved a permit for Mill Creek MetroParks to kill 30 deer in Mill Creek Park in Boardman from Midlothian Boulevard to U.S. Route 224 this fall and winter using U.S. Department of Agriculture employed sharpshooters hunting at night when the park is closed. That is called a “targeted” deer reduction program.
Malloy said what he dislikes most about the Mill Creek MetroParks’ proposed program is that it allows people from far away to participate “who have never been to our park.” He said they will not know the boundaries they are supposed to remain inside and will not “have the same respect as if it was a local person.”
Malloy said he has been approved to participate in the “controlled hunt” part of the deer reduction plan that will take place in some of the parks, such as Hitchcock Woods and Huntington Woods in Boardman, which will be archery hunts, not gun hunts. Gun hunts are planned for some of the more rural parks. No deer reductions will take place in any portion of Mill Creek Park within the Youngstown city limits because of the city’s law against discharging a firearm within the city limits.
Nick Derico, Mill Creek MetroParks Natural Resources manager, was the first witness for the MetroParks. He said when he was hired in 2018, he found “pretty clear evidence” that the park deer had caused damage to the the park’s plant life because of the “browse lines” he saw, which means the lack of vegetation from the ground up to about the height of a deer — 5 to 6 feet.
He admited he didn’t have a count of how many deer were in the park.
“It is good to have a measurement of the deer density, but that is not necessary,” he said. “The proof of an overpopulation is the ecological damage.”
He also admitted there are other animals in the park that eat plants aside from just deer.
The solution to the damage being caused was a deer management plan, which Derico wrote. The parks board approved the plan in April.
In addition to the targeted program that involves sharpshooters, the deer management plan includes a controlled hunting program, Derico said. This type of program allows licensed hunters to kill deer in rural and regional parks. Derico said the MetroParks did not need a special permit from the Division of Wildlife to have a controlled hunt.
Derico said regulations are in place for controlled hunting, including a 300-foot buffer zone around residential areas and a 100-foot buffer around trails.
Derico said 10 people will be allowed to hunt at a time in Hitchcock and Huntington Woods in Boardman, for instance. Only archery will be allowed there “because of the number of homes around those properties,” Derico said.
The following parks will not have any deer reduction program, Derico said during his testimony: Sebring Woods, McGuffey Wildlife Preserve, Egypt Swamp and Cranberry Headwaters. The targeted hunting program in Mill Creek Park will only occur south of Midlothian Boulevard and will only occur for two to four nights, Derico said. It is likely to take place from mid- to late October, Derico said.
Each archery permit will have a “permit window” from Sunday through the end of January with Huntington and Hitchcock Woods being first because they are “archery only,” Derico said. Archery permits on other properties will run from Sunday to mid or late November.
The 208-page Mill Creek MetroParks White-Tailed Deer Management Plan, last updated Sept. 7 on the MetroParks website, states that “Firearm permit periods will be 2 days in length with five separate permit windows being allowed for firearm hunts, which will take place every other weekend through December and January.” It does not state when they begin.
The full plan is available at www.millcreekmetroparks.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/09/WTD-Management-Plan-Full-Final-9.7.23-Update-Web-1.pdf