DeKalb farmers sweat potential hunting liability

By Nina Gougis

An Illinois Supreme Court decision could worsen conditions of high deer populations in DeKalb County and other counties throughout the Midwest, causing more traffic accidents and damaged crops, DeKalb County landowners say.

The 2003 Hall v. Henn ruling said landowners who wish to receive liability protection under the Recreational Use Act must open their land to the general public and not only to selected hunters, said Kevin Rund, senior director of local government for the Illinois Farm Bureau.

Large deer populations have been a problem in DeKalb County for the past few years; they have caused a significant number of damaged crops and traffic accidents, said DeKalb County Sheriff Roger Scott.

The Hall v. Henn ruling could worsen these conditions as landowners hesitate to allow hunting for fear of being held responsible for an injury, Rund said.

“We are already beginning to see hunters who were let on land last year are not being let on this year,” he said.

Under the 20-year-old Recreational Use of Land and Water Areas Act, anyone who opens their land to the public for free cannot be held responsible for injuries that result from the injured person’s negligence or that of anyone else who enters the land.

Less hunting activity could lead to an increase in deer population, said Mike Hardt, assistant manager of the DeKalb County Farmers Bureau.

Hardt said many of the deer destroy crops while feeding.

Rund said it is too early to determine whether the increase in wildlife caused by less hunting will be significant enough to make an impact.

Animals account for 190 car accidents each year in DeKalb County, with deer being the largest contributor Scott said.