BELVIDERE — Hikers, bicyclists, birders and recreational enthusiasts should avoid three conservation areas starting today as archers begin hunting deer that could be infected with a fatal disease.

At least 14 deer have been reported with chronic wasting disease in northern Illinois, nearly all of those in northern Boone and Winnebago counties.

The hunts will take place in Distillery, Anderson Woods and Kinnikinnick conservation areas from now until the middle of November. All three natural areas will be closed to the public during the hunt.

Tim Craig, Boone County Conservation District education director, said a maximum of 15 hunters will be in the field at any given time.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources suggested the hunts to help reduce growing numbers of deer that have destroyed vegetation at some locations by browsing or eating it.

It is the first public hunt at Kinnikinnick, which sits within an area where chronic wasting disease has been found. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources and federal wildlife officials last year used sharpshooters at night to kill more than 150 deer on private property and inside portions of the preserve, but that process is too expensive to continue.

“Hunters are required to stay away from personal property, and we are given information as to where each stand is located,” Craig said. “Deer hunters in general are careful. They have to be pretty good shots.”

The Winnebago County Board is considering a similar proposal to open its forest preserves to deer hunting. So far, no final plan has been presented, and it’s doubtful a hunt will be conducted this year.

Craig said some Boone County Conservation District staff will help monitor activity at the sites and could watch the gates at the facilities at any time.

State District Wildlife Biologist Doug Dufford said the hunt is designed to help stop the spread of the disease. Kinnikinnick is home to an estimated 80 deer.

Dufford said he expects 20 to 30 deer to be taken in Kinnikinnick by the time the special hunts have ended.

“Hunter success differs at each site,” Dufford said. “It’s hard to predict.

“We plan to have each deer tested for CWD. It will help us track the progress of the disease and it will help us in gauging where problems may occur in surrounding areas in the future.”