At the last minute, Pequea Township canceled a controlled hunt to trim the deer herd at Silver Mine Park after being warned that the awarding of permits for the event could amount to an illegal lottery.
Township officials say the hunt was needed to protect residents — eight deer-vehicle collisions in several months — stop the overbrowsing deer from harming restoration of native habitat in the park, and to protect crops on area farms.
But after receiving a complaint, the district attorney’s office got involved.
“The piece that made this out of bounds is the random lottery element,” said Brett Hambright, a spokesman for District Attorney Craig Stedman. “A municipality cannot charge for a ‘raffle,’ so that is where the violation came in, and why we became involved.”
The township had suggested a $10 “donation” to apply for the 80 hunting slots. Some 103 applied. The money was going to be used to offset the costs of the hunt but mostly for habitat improvements to the park, created in 1994.
The hunt was to have been held in morning and evening sessions on various days from Oct. 3-13. And township officials and some potential participants are furious that a complaint forced its cancellation.
‘Didn’t do anything wrong’
“We didn’t do anything wrong. This is so mean spirited,” said Supervisor Cynthia Evans-Herr. She was referring to a complaint she said was lodged to the DA’s office by a disgruntled former township employee on the eve of the hunt.
“I’m disgusted,” added Tim Weaver, chairman of the township Park and Recreation Board.
“It’s a safety issue and a wildlife management issue. It (a hunt) has to happen. We’re going to end up with a stressed herd if we have one hard winter.”
Evans-Herr said the township had worked with the Pennsylvania Game Commission and its solicitor in setting up a drawing-based hunt properly.
The sudden cancellation affected some 49 hunters, including disabled hunters and families who had planned outings together.
A number of hunters had arranged days off work and to take family members, including one hunter who was going to take his 9-year-old grandson on a mentored hunt.
“We had one hunter who I thought was going to cry,” Evans-Herr said. “His son has been in the military and his son had taken four days off of work to do this.”
On the DA’s recommendation, all money is being refunded to hunters. Both Evans-Herr and Weaver said at least half the hunters insisted the township keep the money to improve the park.
Supervisors approved the hunt on April 18 by a 2-1 vote. Supervisor E. John Hlavacek voted against the hunt, expressing safety concerns for “possible injury to people or other animals in the park,” according to township minutes of the meeting.
At the supervisors’ upcoming regular meeting on Oct. 17, Evans-Herr hopes to get approval to tweak the set-up of the hunt process to satisfy any legal concerns.
She said the township and its solicitor were working closely with the DA’s office.
The township hopes to hold a controlled archery or crossbow hunt at the park during Pennsylvania’s late archery season, which runs from Dec. 26-Jan. 12.