DTF frustrated over lack of reduction in deer herd

Thu, 01/31/2019 - 6:45pm

The members of the Deer Task Force, frustrated by the fact that attempts to reduce the deer population during the past several years have not gained much traction, have decided to continue a discussion with representatives of the various conservation groups on the island to open up conserved land to hunting. It is a discussion that has been ongoing for at least a decade.

As members of the DTF pointed out at the meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 23,, the deer are quite aware they’re being tracked, and hide out in places where the hunters are not allowed to go.

At this point, the members are only speculating as to how many deer there are on the island. There was an infrared flyover completed a couple of years ago by Department of Environmental Management, according to DTF member Paul Deane, “but because of the expense they won’t do it every year, but probably every two to four years.”

Deane said that there also used be an “eyeball count done when we had snow, but that’s time, money, and effort — and we need snow.” The snow is needed to contrast the deer from the landscape.

DTF Chair Heather Hatfield said her recollection was that the numbers produced by both the infrared count and the eyeball count were similar

Deane said that so far there have been about 80 or 90 deer tails turned in by island hunters so far, but he expected that another 50 or 60 would be turned in by the end of the hunting season, which is Friday, Feb. 22. But if the deer population is reduced by 150 or so by hunters, they are replaced by an equal number of new births.

The options available to further reduce the deer are limited, which is why Deane discussed the possibility of turning to the conservation groups once again to see about being able to hunt on some of their lands.

“Forty-seven percent of the island is conserved, so where do the deer go? They’re not stupid,” said Deane. “If we can’t get on that land then the numbers will never go anywhere.”

Deane also said he understood there would be liability issues and concerns the conservation people would have, but that was why further dialogue was needed.

“Let’s have a conversation with them to see where they would be willing to go,” said Deane. The central question for the conservation folks, Deane felt, was “Are you on board with helping with the deer population or not?”

The idea of opening up conserved lands to hunting has been broached before. A letter written in 2010 to the members of the Task Force (none of whom are on the board now), stated that there were 299 acres of conservation easements that are actively hunted.

However, there was another 298 acres “with the potential to be hunted,” according to that letter. Lots under 1.5 acres in size cannot be hunted.

Clair Stover, Executive Director of the Block Island Conservancy, said those numbers still hold, more or less.

“Generally speaking, it’s the same policy,” she said.

In 2010, about 43 percent of the island’s land was conserved. Today that number is almost 47 percent. There was, at that time, 146 acres of town-owned land that was open to hunting and 160 acres of conserved land where hunting was prohibited due to deed restrictions.

“It is important to note that the conservation groups have the right to determine whether to allow hunting on only a small portion of the 43 percent of Block Island that is classified as ‘open space,’” the letter states. “Furthermore, what we did not convey to you at the time, and probably should have, is that a significant portion of open space land (including land owned by conservation) is already hunted.”

The Deer Task Force also discussed Lyme disease, and opening up hunting on Saturdays for the months of January and February, and whether those days should be open to island youth only.’

“You were going to open it for everybody,” said DTF clerk Bonny Ryan. The hunting schedule must be sent to the Town Council, which will set the dates for next year during a meeting in February.

The next DTF meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, March 13 at 6 p.m.