Harvested deer numbers tick downward
Chair Sue Hagedorn began the September 7 meeting of the Deer Task Force by discussing Lyme and other tick-borne disease, calling it a “significant problem.” According to the report prepared by DTF member Terry Delaney, the Block Island Medical Center saw 50 cases of Lyme in June 2021, which
“does not include those visitors who sought treatment off island.”
Delaney’s report stated it was the Town Council in 1966 that voted to bring deer to Block Island in the first place. According to the report, on February 24, 1967, one buck and three does were brought to the island.
That buck and those does were fruitful and multiplied, and there are untold numbers of their descendants roaming Block Island today. The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management states that a healthy deer herd size is 10 per square mile. That would equate to 100 on Block Island. The
DEM has recorded an average of 267 deer killed annually on Block Island over the past five years.
No one actually knows the exact size of the Block Island deer herd, although a flyover conducted by DEM in February 2017 estimated there were 650 deer on Block Island.
The DTF has worked on determining an actual count so it could recommend how many to cull, although obtaining an exact number could be expensive
and difficult to do. Usually, these types of counts occur in winter, with snow on the ground. Block Island typically does not receive a large amount of snow, and it tends to melt off quickly, so coordinating another flyover count by DEM is difficult. Private companies offer the service, and DTF member Jeffrey
Wright is looking into the cost of that for the group.
DTF member and Chief of Police Matt Moynihan told the group: “Everyone agrees it’s too many. It’s in excess. We’re spinning our wheels trying to figure out an actual number.”
Member Tom Walsh agreed. “We don’t really need to know how many we have,” he said. “We need more hunters and we need more areas to hunt.”
The DEM has stated that hunting is the best and preferred method of culling deer herds in Rhode Island. Walsh described several of the “roadblocks”
to effectively hunting on Block Island, including approximately half the island being conserved land where hunting is not allowed, many of the private residents not allowing hunting on their land, and the weekend ban on hunting. The deer just hide in the non-hunting areas until the season is over, according to Walsh.
“The deer aren’t stupid; at the first shot they head to their winter home,” Walsh said.
According to statistics published by DEM through the 2019-2020 hunting season, the total number of hunters in the state is slowly decreasing while total numbers of deer taken are slowly increasing. In other words, fewer hunters are killing more deer, statewide.
But the numbers for Block Island are decreasing, with only 141 deer harvested in 2019-2020, down 47 percent from the five-year average of 267. To remedy this decline, Walsh recommends opening conserved land to at least allow bow hunting and joining the rest of Rhode Island in allowing weekend hunting.
Walsh called it an “opportunity” for hotels and restaurants to make money in the offseason, but he said it can’t be “only weekdays.”
Hagedorn suggested hiring a hunting company, such as White Buffalo, to come in and kill the deer off. Walsh stated that he didn’t agree with their methods, and called killing animals with no plan for using the meat “wanton destruction.” Instead, he suggested inviting over bow hunting clubs from the mainland and providing them with lists and maps of properties available to hunt.
The DTF is working to put together a set of solutions to present to the Town Council in the near future, and plans to schedule a half-day work session to facilitate the work.