Council nixes extra hunting days

Thu, 02/28/2019 - 6:45pm
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There will be no deer hunting on Saturdays on Block Island.

The New Shoreham Town Council rejected that request by the Deer Task Force, after careful consideration, with the public weighing in, at its Feb. 27 meeting. Councilor Chris Willi was absent from the meeting. The Deer Task Force serves as an advisory group to the council, with the mission of addressing issues related to the island’s deer population.

The council decided that safety was a concern and a priority and opted not to add nine extra deer hunting dates during January and February of the 2019/2020-schedule. The DTF voted unanimously at its Jan. 22 meeting to recommend adding the Saturday dates in an effort aimed at reducing the deer herd to combat Lyme disease.

In a Feb. 18 letter, DTF member Kirk Littlefield requested that the council consider adding the nine Saturdays to allow mainland and island-based hunters to hunt “without having to take time out of work.” Littlefield also noted that deer hunting could be limited to private property on the island.

During an impassioned discussion, in which both sides of the argument were made, DTF member Dora Burak voiced frustration over the town’s inability to properly address the deer population.

“Every possible avenue, or coming up with a solution, even the initial one with the White Buffalo (hunters), gets shot down, pardon the pun,” said Burak, who noted that she has suffered from the effects of Lyme disease. “So we’re not going to get to a solution.” The Department of Environmental Management’s engagement of White Buffalo to cull the herd in 2014 was unsuccessful.  

“Things get shot down for a reason. They’re not just shot down arbitrarily,” said First Warden Ken Lacoste, who, along with other council members, encouraged the DTF to keep exploring ideas to address the issue. “The White Buffalo initiative was curtailed because of an unsafe situation.”

Lacoste said, “We’d all like to see the Lyme disease threat reduced. We’d like to see the deer herd reduced. But we’re not willing to compromise the safety of a majority of our residents. And I think that’s an overriding factor.”

Councilor Sven Risom applauded the DTF’s efforts, and said, “The goal seems to be to harvest more deer. At the end of the day, that’s sort of a big goal.” He noted that while he was “sort of a hunter,” and “appreciates it,” he also “walks a lot,” and has real safety concerns. “Weekends are special days to go hiking,” he said.

“I allow hunting on my land,” said Councilor Martha Ball, before noting that she “would like to see a more thought out proposal” for culling the herd.

“We can try to get to a solution,” said Lacoste, who noted that the council sets the hunting dates per the town’s charter. Several letters submitted to the council from both sides of the issue were read into the record. Letters were submitted by resident hunter Chris Blane, Matt Gaffney, Blake and Michelle Phelan, the Dewey family, and Barby and Doug Michel.

In his letter, Gaffney wrote that, “rifle use would increase the effective range and shot opportunity, and “increasing land access would be vital.” He also called for “incentivizing landowners to remove thick low brush where deer hide” on their property.

The Deweys, Phelans, and Michels noted their opposition to the DTF’s request for hunting on Saturdays.

In their letter, read aloud by Second Warden André Boudreau, the Michels wrote that, “This will curtail outdoor activities for those of us who live here for fear of being near hunting areas.” They also noted that, “The DEM is still stuck in the past,” when people hunted for food and the deer were preserved for this purpose. “The time for this method has long gone by, not only here but on the mainland, as many no longer hunt for food and deer hunters have outgrown the ability to keep herds in check by old traditions.”

“I don’t see a room full of people supporting this,” said Blane, who noted that the deer have become nocturnal and wiser to being hunted in certain areas on the island. Blane said the DTF’s recommendation “is a little too controversial right now,” and a better proposal is needed. He recommended that the DTF consult with officials from the Department of Environmental Management, which is responsible for the deer population, as well as U.S. Fish and Wildlife, to address the herd.

Town Manager Ed Roberge agreed. “We have had conversations with the DEM and U.S. Fish and Wildlife,” said Roberge, noting the benefits of an “open dialogue” with those agencies. “They want to come to here for a coordination meeting. Maybe we could arrange that for mid-April.”

“This should be weighed and balanced,” said Roberge. “The herd is large and needs to be culled, but public safety is number one.”

The next Town Council meeting is Monday, March 4 at 7 p.m.