Editorial: Town council correct in approving deer plan

Sat, 04/06/2013 - 1:30pm

At long last the Town Council has voted to take meaningful action to deal with the deer problem.

For decades the growing herd was tolerated and many island voices said that the only people bothered by the deer were the cottagers who liked to garden. But the deer also pose a serious health problem.Some years ago, Lyme disease became a core issue and so it remains.

Lyme and related diseases strike young and old, sometimes with devastating consequences.

As a result, the town council appointed a Deer Task Force to consider the problem and make recommendations. That was four years ago.

The task force has worked diligently and wisely to bring forth a recommendation, which it did in the past couple of weeks. The group did not act precipitously, but rather put forth modest proposals to extend the hunting season and increase the land available to hunters. In spite of these efforts, the deer population remained more or less unchanged. The health threats remained.

Now the council (with a 3 to 2 vote) has tentatively approved the Skidaway Plan (named after a location in Georgia where a similar plan has been successfully enacted), a controlled hunt with expert marksmen drawn from the local population. The task force has asked for an exceedingly modest allocation of $12,500 to finance the first year.

The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management must still approve the plan because that department regulates the deer. Details still need to be defined about the specifics of the hunt. The council vote, however, ratifies the consensus that the deer population poses a serious threat. There is not unanimity on the issue and a number of good citizens see the deer (and the idea of a night hunt) from a different perspective. But the island conversation seemed to turn several years ago and the narrow council vote reflects that shift.

The basic fact remains that the deer do not belong here. They were brought to the island unwisely and our fragile environmental culture was disturbed. Even where deer are native, a recommended population number is 10 to 15 deer per square mile. Even the most conservative estimates of the deer population put us at five times that.

It will take several years to reduce the deer population. Realistically, total elimination may never occur.

We can, however, achieve a better balance and positively affect our collective public health if the deer population is drastically reduced.

Congratulations to the task force for its good work. Thanks to the public for its input and the council for its thoughtful deliberations and approval.We finally appeal to the DEM for its approval and we look forward to the seeing the details of the finalized plan and for the council to appropriate the modest sum to implement the plan.