Add deer to the list of passions arousing Eureka Springs.
For years, it was legal to shoot the animals inside the city limits, even in neighborhoods where some residents scattered corn to attract deer to their yards.
In 2000, Eureka Springs citizens voted decisively to outlaw deer hunting inside the city. But the issue divided the town.
Today, many residents regard deer as a growing nuisance and a threat to safety.
Last November, two city council members proposed an ordinance that would make it illegal to feed deer inside the city limits.
Under the proposed ordinance, persons caught feeding deer would be fined $50 plus court costs for a first violation, and fines would escalate with each successive offense.
Alderman Butch Berry said “The ordinance banning hunting probably caused the population to increase.”
Berry suggested that a ban on feeding “would only be a first measure” toward reducing the herd. If it didn’t succeed, he said, the city would have to mount an education campaign explaining the necessity of allowing hunting within the city.
“Deer feeders headed for the pokey?” the headline read in the local newspaper, the Lovely County Citizen.
“I’m completely, totally against it!” the paper reported Alderman Gayle Money exclaimed.
“It will turn neighbor against neighbor and require police to go on private property. If you prohibit feeding, might as well give up any chance of having a garden — it’s just going to make it worse.”
Alderman Karen Lindblad agreed. “Not feeding is going to be hard to enforce. The best we can do is plant plants they don’t eat and put up fences.”
Money reportedly retorted that she would not be told what she could and could not plant “to save the lives of a few deer.”
After the meeting, one of the council members e-mailed Earl Hyatt, the city’s chief of police, asking his opinion. The chief expressed his concern in his e-mailed response that a ban on feeding deer might lead neighbors to begin spying and informing on each other, and that that could spark disputes.
“The largest problem with the overpopulation of deer is the lack of natural predators,” Hyatt wrote. “When this city passed the ordinance banning the archery hunting of deer in the city limits, the deer population went up.”
As he saw it, the long-term solution was simple. “Even Arkansas Game and Fish will tell you that the best way to manage the population of a deer herd is through controlled hunting.”
But, since that idea had been rejected at the polls, Hyatt held out for calm. Noting that there had only been one traffic accident involving a deer in the past 11 months, he suggested, “It seems the biggest issue in this matter is that the deer eat flowers.”
The chief continued: “I am fully aware that this makes some people very angry, but I can’t bridge the gap between an animal eating flowers and passing a law against feeding wild animals. To many of our residents, feeding and watching the deer, squirrels and birds is just as important as flowers are to others.”
The deer problem — including the question of whether or not Eureka Springs even has a “deer problem” — remains unresolved.