FARGO — Longtime Fargo resident Richard Thomas wants to put an end to bow hunting in city parks along the Red River.
The 72-year-old former hunter said he has collected more than 200 signatures for a petition to do just that, mainly by visiting with people at parks at Orchard Glen and Forest River Nature parks in far south Fargo.
"Discharging of deadly weapons should not be allowed in parks occupied by the public," the petition reads.
The city established the Wildlife Management Program in 2007 to address residents' complaints of a nuisance deer population affecting gardens and landscaping. Hunting is allowed on city and park district-owned parcels along the Red River stretching from the city's far south to the northern city limits and beyond.
Fargo Police Chief David Zibolski, who entered that role in 2020, raised concerns about the program as he saw it as a potential safety hazard. In August, a study group city leaders created to examine the benefits and risks of the program recommended keeping it — though with a few proposed hunter safety measures and elimination of the turkey hunt. The current season started on Sept. 1 and runs through Jan. 31.
With more residents using riverside parks and trails than when the program started, urban hunting presents a greater danger, Thomas argues.
"We believe the risk to park users is too high," he said in a phone interview. "It's just downright unacceptable."
The once-undeveloped parks, some only formed after flood home buyouts along the river, have trails and parking lots and are "heavily used," Thomas said, adding: "The situation has changed."
Many now use the parks for activities including walking, running, biking, wildlife watching, snowshoeing and skiing. Thomas said he saw hundreds of cars in parking lots and along roadways near the south Fargo parks while collecting signatures over Labor Day weekend.
Zibolski, who initially favored ending the hunting in the parks due to public safety, told city officials he plans to present on the issue at the Oct. 18 City Commission meeting.
After the police chief's original presentation months ago when he said he opposed urban hunting because of the city's growing population and increased usage of the land by residents, the City Commission decided to have a separate public hearing on the urban hunting issue. City leaders then appointed an advisory panel to assess issues surrounding the hunting.
At the hearing and during a panel meeting, the overwhelming sentiment was that the program should continue, although with possibly some changes.
Support for program
Fargo Police Lt. Mathew Sanders, who has run the Wildlife Management Program for several years, said the permits are usually sold out in three to four minutes when offered online each June.
Bow hunter Brian Zastoupil, who was on the panel, said the harvesting of 353 deer over the 15 years — or an average of about 23 a year — shows that 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 have been no accidents in 15 years and that passersby sometimes won't even notice hunters in their tree stands.
Jeb Williams, a panelist from the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, said he believes public acceptance of the program is "pretty high."
He said it's a good "maintenance program" for the prolific deer herd and that the cultural experience of hunting in the state is "highly valued."
Thomas, though, said he isn't going to give up his fight and will keep collecting signatures.