If Janesville’s Rotary Botanical Gardens does allow archery hunting on its doe-and buck-decimated 20 acres, it will have to wait for the Janesville City Council to come to the table to consider it.
On Monday, the council shelved a proposal by the nonprofit gardens to adopt an ordinance that would allow bow hunting of deer at the Rotary Gardens during the fall and winter urban archery season, with one council member saying the plan could be a “political hot potato.”
The ordinance request, the city said in a memo, is an attempt to control a deer population that over the past few years has done more than a quarter of a million dollars in damage to the gardens, decimating some of the park’s main plantings.
The council on Monday hit the brakes on the request to place the ordinance change on the council’s docket later this month for a public hearing. The council sought to suspend the public hearing indefinitely until Rotary Gardens officials have time to review their request in light of at least three dozen emails to the city by residents decrying the plan.
The city’s administration plans to share the feedback with the gardens, Janesville City Manager Mark Freitag said.
The Rotary Gardens under the proposal would fund its own after-hours deer hunting with bow-and-arrow and crossbow only. The ordinance as written would allow the garden’s directors to manage a state Department of Natural Resources-sponsored program in the fall and winter, during the state’s urban deer season.
Some municipalities in Dane County allow urban bow-hunting programs, but Janesville doesn’t allow hunting on public grounds within city limits.
The Rotary Gardens has leased the land at 1455 Palmer Drive from the city since 1988.
Douglas Marklein was one of the council members to initially suggest halting the plan until the city and Rotary Gardens can better wrap their arms around what he thinks could be a politically charged proposal.
“I mean, it may have merit. But the community is not informed enough, and we’re hearing from a fair amount of people that have heard about it and are not pleased with this decision,” Marklein said. “And it could be a political hot potato that both the city of Janesville, the city council, and more importantly, Rotary Botanical Gardens, may not want it to go forward with.”
Other council members, including Michael Jackson, said they wanted to see the gardens bring forward some other options besides "shooting" deer.
That’s after the city’s parks and recreation department forwarded the proposal to the council with a thumbs up in May.
The Rotary Gardens for years has decried an urban deer population that migrates into the 20-acre gardens from adjacent greenbelts and wooded areas that run through the heart of the city.
The parks and recreation department in the early 2010s began talking with the DNR about a potential urban program that would allow a deer management program in the green belts and parks, the city said in a memo.
One former lead horticulturist at the Rotary Gardens in 2016 said that two bucks in the rut locked antlers in the middle of a cascading tree light display that was part of the gardens’ annual holiday light show.
The deer tumbled through the display, tearing it apart, and then ran off with broken strings of holiday lights tangled in their antlers.
Along with more than $250,000 in damage to the gardens’ Arborvitae plantings—some portions of which have been damaged by deer grazing to the point of destruction—the deer also have also eaten thousands of dollars in bulb plantings and about $30,000 in hosta.
Trail camera photos at the gardens show deer—sometimes in small herds—munching on vegetation, hedges and other plants at the gardens during all four seasons.
Some Rotary Gardens officials have said that if nothing is done to deter deer, continued damage could put the gardens in financial jeopardy.
Council President Paul Benson said he’s spoken with Rotary Gardens board members, and he doesn’t believe the group has taken a hard stance on any measure in particular to deter deer.
“They just want to solve the problem. I don’t think that they are eager to get this done in super-hurry,” he said.