Non-profit mainland group will accept slain island deer

Thu, 12/03/2020 - 6:15pm
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The members of the Deer Task Force know they are on the horns of a dilemma: How to reduce the deer herd when hunters are restricted on how many bucks they can take and when homeowners are reluctant to allow hunting on their property due to safety concerns.

These were the questions the members mulled at their most recent meeting on Monday, Nov. 30.

They came to a trio of conclusions: embarking on an education program that would espouse the safety of bow hunting on private property, petitioning the Town Council to remove the restrictions on the numbers of bucks that can be taken by each hunter, and to also let island hunters know that there is an organization on the mainland that will accept whole deer carcasses that have been field dressed but not fully butchered.

This last bit of news, which was announced by DTF member Heather Hatfield, was welcomed by a new member of the DTF, Tom Walsh, who is a hunter.

“We’re trying to come up with a plan to move deer off island,” said Hatfield at the outset of the meeting, while adding that hunters “would shoot more deer if they didn’t have to butcher them. You can only put so much deer into your freezer before it’s full.”

Hatfield then mentioned an organization, the Providence-based Center for Southeast Asians, that would take “deer as long as it’s field dressed.”

Walsh said he was skeptical of that. “I think you have to check with the [Department of Environmental Management] on that. You’re really not allowed to transport deer,” he said. “As long as they have a tag on them, it’s allowed,” said Hatfield.

“Do people know about this?” asked Walsh.

“That’s what we have to do, is get the word out,” said Hatfield. She said that the DTF didn’t have to interact with the hunters who wanted to send the deer off to that organization, they could just do it themselves.

“This is a big issue. If you have a group that can take it and not have to break it down to its skinned-out parts, that’s huge. That should greatly increase the number of deer that can be taken off,” said Walsh.

Kannyka Pouk, Director of Programs for the Center for Southeast Asians, confirmed that the organization will accept field-dressed deer from Block Island. “We don’t need it butchered,” she said. The group aids Southeast Asian families in the Providence and Pawtucket areas. Pouk said that even though Pt. Judith was a little out of the way, “we will find families willing to go that far” to pick up the deer.

She asked that Block Island hunters call in advance to let them know there is a deer on the ferry so they can arrange a pickup. Hunters can call Pouk’s office directly at (401) 274-8811 during the day. She urged hunters to call a 24-hour line, which is (401) 871-5633, if they are calling after 5 p.m. Pouk said not to leave a message on her office phone after 5 p.m. because it would not be received until the following day.

The members also addressed some issues with an initiative that was implemented several years ago — paying Block Island hunters $150 for each deer taken — that has waned in recent years. One issue is that the DTF is running out of money, said Hatfield. “If we’re going to continue with the deer tail program we’re going to have to raise some money. I don’t know if we’ll have enough money to get through this year. We’ll be fine if we have the numbers we had last year, but if the numbers were like previous years, we won’t have enough money.”

years, we won’t have enough money.” That dovetailed into a discussion on the restriction that allowed hunters to take just two bucks per season: one taken by gun and one taken by bow.

“We were allowed to hunt as many bucks and does as you’d like, and we should go back to that,” said Hatfield, noting there has been some opposition to that from an on-island hunter.

Town Clerk Molly Fitzpatrick said that the Deer Task Force should send a recommendation to remove the restrictions to the Town Council, which would then forward its recommendation to the DEM. The DEM owns the deer herd on Block Island.

“Up until a few years ago it was unlimited,” said Hatfield on the number of bucks hunters were allowed to take. As for the DTF’s recommendation to the council, Hatfield said, “Let’s shoot for the moon and if they say no, we ask for two or three.”

After a discussion of when to open up deer hunting on Beane Point after the waterfowl hunting season ends in late December, Walsh expressed some frustration about how to engage the community with hunters so that the deer herd could be more effectively reduced. Property owners have to give permission for hunters to go on their property, but many won’t allow it because of safety concerns. He said bow hunting may be the answer.

“People are all for reduction, but they don’t want to have [hunting] in their neighborhood,” Walsh said, “and with conserved land” — on which hunting is not allowed — “you basically have an impossible situation.”

“That’s been the problem all along,” said Hatfield.

Walsh said he would like to ask the community, “Tell me your thoughts on the deer number? What would you like done?”

He said he would like to tell the community that “I recognize that people are afraid of gun hunting. I don’t know why, but they are.” But he said that bow hunting was much safer and if property owners were made aware of that they may be more amenable to hunting on their property. “Bow hunting is up close and personal. There’s no such thing as a bow hunting accident. You can’t shoot without a clear vision and unobstructed path,” he said. Walsh added that people are “deathly afraid of guns but also of bow hunting. They think it’s dangerous. It’s not. I don’t know how we do it, but I think we have an education problem.”

Hatfield said that hunting is “the only way to reduce the deer now,” but the community wants to reduce the herd “with a magical bullet, not an actual bullet. They want the deer reduced, but done in a way that it is 100 percent safe.”