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Pittsburgh archers have culled more than five dozen deer in Frick and Riverview parks

Deer at Frick Park
Kiley Koscinski
90.5 WESA
Pittsburgh is temporarily allowing archery hunting in two city parks to manage the ballooning deer population.

It’s been nearly two months since handpicked teams of bowhunters began bagging deer in two Pittsburgh parks. And according to city officials, hunters had taken 64 deer as of mid-November.

Those were the early results of pilot program to manage the deer population. The city rushed to launch the hunt with the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Sept. 30 — a timeframe short enough that hunting even began before the city finished posting signs to alert residents. Many park goers had questions about how hunting would impact other activities in Frick and Riverview parks, according to park ranger Erica Heide.

“There was a lot of confusion at the start,” Heide said. “There was a lot of concern initially [including questions like] ‘Is this program safe? Should we continue to have our events in this park?’”

But Heide said in the weeks since, archers and park goers have gotten used to each other.

“Overall, I think people are coming back to the parks, understanding that [deer population reduction] is a necessity,” Heide said. She noted that archery-related injuries are rare across Pennsylvania, where zero such incidents were reported last year.

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Officials in Mayor Ed Gainey's administration have said they wanted to pilot a controlled deer hunt to learn how best to manage the city’s exploding deer population. The pilot authorized 15 archers in each park to hunt deer Monday through Saturday. Officials say they don't have a goal for the number of deer they hope will be taken, and the pilot program won’t be extensive enough to manage the population in one season. The results will, however, inform the city's efforts to devise a longer-term plan.

The controlled hunt is directly managed by the USDA, which did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

But according to Heide, who patrols Frick Park, hunters have so far removed 38 deer from Riverview Park and 26 from Frick. Heide speculated that Riverview’s topography and size might make it easier to hunt. But with archers setting their own schedules, Riverview's increased deer count may also stem from more frequent hunting there.

The city is collecting data about each hunt, requiring archers to complete summary reports detailing each outing. Hunters must record the number of deer they saw in the park, the gender of the deer they’ve killed and where the deer is taken afterwards to harvest.

Meat from slightly more than half of the deer has been donated to local food banks. It amounts to 6,240 meals provided to people in need.

There have been reports of deer carcasses left along trails and at the roadside this fall. But Heide said investigators found that those scenes have been the result of coyotes picking off deer killed in car accidents. Coyotes have long roamed both Riverview and Frick parks as well as elsewhere in the city.

Heide said some park goers have reported discomfort with seeing trails of blood from hunters, but she said the city has been able to wash off the trails in multiple instances.

Meanwhile, Pittsburgh Public Safety Director Lee Schmidt said the city is seeing a similar rate of illegal hunting compared to previous years.

Apart from the authorized archers in Frick and Riverview, hunting is illegal on public property in city limits. But Schmidt said reports of hunters in Hays Woods and other large city parks are common.

“We always get complaints about people hunting in various parks around the city,” he said. “A lot of the issues, concerns and complaints we've had, we've been able to track down,” said Schmidt — and most involve illegal hunting in other parks.

Any illegal hunting should be reported to the Pennsylvania Game Commission, he said.

The pilot program in Frick and Riverview will continue until Dec. 9, followed by a pause until Dec. 26. The pilot will conclude Jan. 27.

Updated: November 27, 2023 at 12:12 PM EST
This story has been updated to specify that hunting is illegal on public property within Pittsburgh.
Kiley Koscinski covers city government, policy and how Pittsburghers engage with city services. She also works as a fill-in host for All Things Considered. Kiley has previously served as a producer on The Confluence and Morning Edition.