Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Tweety, Yogi Bear, and Wiley E. Coyote are breathing a little easier these days. The Burbank, California, city council has said “That’s all folks” to bowhunting.
You might think that hunting in the hometown of Warner Brothers, Columbia Pictures, Walt Disney, and NBC Studios sounds like a Hollywood fantasy, but the geography of Burbank is actually tailor-made for bowhunters.
Burbank began as two Spanish land grants that became a sheep ranch. Today it is an incorporated city of 100,000 with a total size of just more than 17 square miles. The studios, Griffith Park Zoo, and many other attractions and homes are located in the lovely downtown area, but on the northeast side of the city are the Verdugo Mountains, which rise up to 1,000 feet. Over seven miles long and three miles wide (at their widest), the Verdugos are part of the San Gabriel Mountains, and home to some 500 deer, as well as numerous rabbits, quail, and coyotes. Until this spring, these animals have been legal game for archers.
Last fall, however, some hikers complained about seeing bowhunters in the Verdugos. Their concerns led the Burbank city council to forbid anyone “but a peace officer or animal control officer” acting in the line of duty from shooting arrows in the city limits — except at archery ranges, although there are none.
There has never been a bowhunting accident in the history of Burbank. But one city council member explained that “there is still the potential for an accident … It just boils down to acting in a reasonably concerned manner.”
Risk assessment is big business; there is even a Society for Risk Analysis. But in terms of risk, archery is one of the safest of all sports. Accidents in competition are unheard of.
There are six million bowhunters nationwide. From 1993 to 1998, the last five years for which data are available, injuries per year for the nation have never been more than 20, and fatal injuries per year range from 3 to 6. Most of these injuries are from falling — especially out of tree stands.
Contrast these stats with golf, tennis, badminton, baseball, touch football, and even ping pong — let alone trail biking or skateboarding. All of these sports have higher accident rates. More, the trails in the Verdugos host growing numbers of speeding mountain bikes, which do cause accidents.Why not outlaw trail bikers? Is safety the real issue, or is it hunting?
For many years bowhunting has been the primary way to manage wildlife in the Verdugo Mountains, especially the deer herd, which ventures into residential areas to forage, wanders onto highways, attracts mountain lions, and carries Lyme disease. Bowhunters have also helped control the local coyote population that feeds on young deer, cats, and dogs, and represents a threat to young children. Bowhunting was seen by the state as the principal way to manage wildlife in the Verdugos, yet the Burbank city council conducted a study and concluded that banning bowhunting in the city limits would not have any environmental consequences.
The implications of this brewing controversy — California Bowman-Hunters and Bowhunter Education are fighting it all the way — go far beyond a hundred or so hunters enjoying themselves chasing bucks and bunnies in Burbank. California Fish and Game has previously contested situations where a local government tried to takeover wildlife management without the state’s permission, and the state has prevailed. Imagine the crazy-quilt pattern of wildlife management that would crop up if every area could make its own wildlife laws, irregardless of wildlife science.
Methods of urban wildlife control are also in question here. Despite what the Burbank environmental-impact survey may claim, if you stop hunting in an area, animal behavior will change; populations will grow unless something else is done to control them, damages will occur, and there will be more human-animal encounters both positive and negative.
In many areas, coyotes are replacing raccoons as the nightly marauders who tip over garbage cans. Coyote attacks on people are relatively rare, but growing in California. If coyotes lose their fear of humans they become brazen. One of my neighbors had one walk into his kitchen, where his toddler was sitting in a high chair.
If coyotes do attack, children are a favorite human target; but pets are tops on the menu. You can trap or poison coyotes when they move into suburban areas, but the cheapest and safest approach is bowhunting — it not only reduces population size but restores the animals’ wariness of people, which has been normal for as long as humans have been around.
All across America communities are being forced to try to manage skyrocketing deer populations. As might be expected, animal-rights activists are against deer-herd management through hunting, including bowhunting. They advocate contraceptives administered through food, or darts or biobullets shot into does at least once a year.
The U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance recently conducted a survey of the fifty state wildlife agencies on the use of birth control for urban deer-herd control. Eighteen deer-birth control projects have been completed or are underway. Statistics show that only 513 deer were treated during the studies. The cost was $1,509,739, an average of $2,943 per deer!
Other towns have employed sharpshooters to thin deer herds. The cost per deer runs from about $100 to almost $500. Trapping and relocating deer costs about $400 an animal and up to 60 percent perish in transport or soon thereafter.
The Wildlife Society and The National Bowhunter Education Foundation have done considerable research on how to create a safe, economic, and successful urban deer-control program using bowhunting. Burbank has chosen otherwise.
It should also be noted that if deer herds increase, it is likely that mountain lions will be drawn into the area. Humans do become part of the menu for mountain lions. In terms of risk assessment, would you rather share the trails with a few bowhunters for a couple months, or share them with mountain lions for the entire year?
Northern Californians like to think of themselves as somewhat more enlightened than downstaters. In San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, there is a large outdoor archery range, which is free and open to all. Nearby you can rent equipment if you don’t have your own. There are no security guards or range masters present. They trust people. Accidents are unheard of.
Burbank could learn something from that example.
— James Swan is a contributing editor of ESPNOutdoors.com. He also writes for the Outdoor Channel’s Engel’s Outdoor Experience, which just won a Golden Moose for the category “Best Waterfowl Shows 2002.”