Deer herd remains frustratingly high

Thu, 02/20/2020 - 6:45pm
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Sue Gibbons has an idea.

The science teacher at the Block Island School went before the members of the Deer Task Force to propose a plan that she hopes will significantly reduce the deer population. The Deer Task Force is on the record as saying the deer population is not being culled in any significant way.

“I would be for eradication” of the deer, Gibbons said at the meeting on Feb. 11, “but I don’t think that’s a possibility. I am a strong deer herd reducer — and we need to do that substantially, and we’re not.”

What Gibbons proposed was a way to encourage hunters to take as many deer as possible without having to process or field dress the carcass. Gibbons proposed hiring one or two people to do that for the hunters, as well as possibly renting or purchasing a cooler to keep the deer fresh while it is waiting to be dressed.

Gibbons was proposing a “town system for appropriate processing and transport” of the taken deer. “If the local hunters say no” to the proposal, said Gibbons, “there’s no reason to go any further.” Gibbons said the people hired to process and dress the deer would “have to be on call during hunting hours.”

It has been widely acknowledged that the $150 deer tag reward has not been enough to entice hunters either to the island or to take any significant number of deer.

Gibbons referenced her husband, Peter, who is a hunter. “Peter is really motivated, but he doesn’t want to process or field dress. Are there hunters out there who also don’t want to field dress or process?” she asked.

Gibbons said she recognized that funds would have to be raised to hire the people who would field dress and process the animals, and that a refrigerator of some size would be needed, but she said “didn’t we raise a prodigious amount of money for White Buffalo, and that didn’t work.” The Deer Task Force had hired an outside company, White Buffalo, to reduce the herd, but the project fizzled out before it made any headway recucing the herd. The refrigerator is necessary to keep the meet fresh so it can be transported to the mainland.

The members did not think there would be a refrigerator on the island that could be rented for that purpose. A large number of deer would possibly have to be kept cool at once.

Gibbons said it was again time to take deer herd reduction seriously. She has had Lyme disease three times, she said. “I’ve hit them on the roads.”

Gibbons wondered aloud why more local hunters were not participating in the hunt.

“How many hunters do you think are out there?” asked DTF Board member Dick Stinson.

“I have no idea,” said Gibbons.

“Not that many,” said Stinson.

DTF Chair Dora Burak said that deer were so plentiful on the mainland that there was no reason for hunters to make a trip to Block Island. Another impediment to attracting mainland hunters is that local homeowners are reluctant to give hunters they do not know permission to hunt on their land.

The key will be incentivizing local hunters, which Gibbons hoped her proposal would do.

“If we’re really serious about deer reduction, we’re not doing it,” said Gibbons. “We need to get more hunters to take more deer. Can we encourage local hunters and make life easier for them?”

As the members of the DTF looked over the proposed hunting schedule for 2020/21 and 2021/22 — the R.I. Departmement of Environmental Management asks that two upcoming seasons be submitted for approval — Stinson recommended that archery be available all season long.

“That should be proposed,” said Stinson, which the board approved as a recommendation to the Town Council. (The DTF can only make recommendations to the council. It does not set policy.)

The group also made two more recommendations it hoped would contribute to reducing the herd.

The DTF recommended one weekend in February be open for archery, muzzleloading, and shotgun hunting. They also voted to request the Town Council to reinstate the policy of issuing unlimited buck tags for Block Island. That limit is now set at two bucks, which was set about four years ago. A buck can mate with up to 20 does, and by reducing both the bucks and the does it was hoped that decreased birth rates would also contribute to the reduction of the herd.

“We need unlimited bucks,” said DTF member Kirk Littlefield. When these limits were not in effect in the past, he said, “that’s when the deer herd went down.”

The council voted to approve these measures at its meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 18.