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Bow hunting ordinance off-target?

Should bow hunters be allowed to take aim in Newport to help control what city officials say is a growing deer population?

City council members recently said yes, giving the OK for licensed hunters to practice their sport in rural residential neighborhoods on the north and east fringes of the city. But residents of the hilly, wooded areas where hunters can now take aim say bow hunting Bambi means they'll have to worry about stray arrows and trespassing hunters.

It's solution to the rising numbers of deer in the city, said city administrator Brian Anderson. He says the city has received a steady stream of deer-related complaints -- from siding being chewed off homes, to gardens gutted by hungry deer.

Neighboring cities Cottage Grove and Woodbury already have archery hunting ordinances on the books. That has likely driven more deer into Newport, Anderson said.

"The deer had to go someplace where there's no pressure," he added. "That's Newport, unfortunately."

How many deer?

But there's one hitch in the city's claim that the deer population in Newport is out of control: they don't actually know. City officials admit no deer count has been done, and that they have no population estimate.

A Minnesota Department of Natural Resources survey would have cost the city thousands, Anderson said.

Residents opposed to the plan jumped on that point at a hearing on the ordinance last month.

"How do we say we have a problem if we don't know how many deer we have?" said one resident who said he has lived in Newport for 44 years. He added: "I've lived here a long time. They eat my stuff, too. You know what I say? That's the way it goes."

Most residents who argued against the ordinance said they wouldn't feel safe with hunting happening so close to home.

"I could be standing in my back yard and get hit by an arrow," one woman told the council.

City officials countered the complaints by saying the ordinance lays out strict guidelines that ensure safety, including:

-- Hunting is only permitted on parcels five acres or larger

-- Hunters must be licensed by state

-- A 20-foot buffer zone between property lines where hunting is not allowed

'Can't be done safely?'

The ordinance also includes a requirement that hunters pass a proficiency test, after councilmember Tom Ingemann pushed for its inclusion. Mayor Tim Geraghty disagreed, saying it would "add another layer of bureaucracy."

Under the ordinance, hunters must receive permission from property owners to hunt on the land, and property owners can have their property removed from the map. A number of residents signaled at last month's meeting they would do just that, creating large pockets of no-go zones and making it a less attractive option to hunters.

City Council members OK'd the ordinance unanimously over the objections, saying the city needs to put a check on the deer population.

"I just don't understand why it can be done safety in Woodbury, safely in Cottage Grove ... safely in dozens of other metro cities," said council member Pauline Schottmuller in response to the protests, "and it can't be done safely in Newport?"