Friday, February 29, 2008
State wildlife manager encourages hunting to manage deer population
For anyone concerned about deer damage and Lyme disease, Pat Huckery has a recommendation: more hunting and less animal feeding. She suggests opening up Carlisle’s conservation lands to hunting and encouraging landowners to let hunters onto private property. The tall, khaki-clad Huckery, Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) New England District Manager, was a friendly but imposing figure, easy to imagine in the field surveying state lands for violators. She and DFW Wildlife Biologist Erik Amati appeared at the February 12 Conservation Commission coffee to make the case that deer must be managed, and hunting may pose less risk to humans than unfettered growth in deer populations.
There has not been a human fatality due to hunting in Massachusetts in more than 12 years, while during that time, two people were killed in deer-vehicle collisions, said Huckery. Many residents of Carlisle are unaware of hunting within the town, which is legal on private property, with permission, but not conservation land (other than the DFW lands off Maple Street). Amati reported that 20 to 30 deer are reported killed each year in Carlisle, half by shotgun and half by bow and arrow. This does not count deer fatalities due to traffic or other means of which there are two or three reported. Additional collisions may go unreported.
Huckery says fear of hunting is overblown. State laws prevent rifle hunting, or hunting within 500 feet of a house without homeowner approval. A hunter education course is mandatory for obtaining a license. Property owners are protected against liability as long as there is no payment for hunting privileges. A number of communities, including Dover, Sudbury, and Westford, are now inviting hunters to certain areas, and in some cases, owners on a cul-de-sac will jointly hire a hunter. Says Huckery, encouraging hunting “seems to be effective” in reducing deer populations.
Deer prosper in Carlisle
Carlisle currently sustains a deer population two to three times the ten per square mile optimum, Huckery said. Coincidentally, an area behind the Fire Station was the site of a 1995 DFW experiment in deer radio-collaring that produced a wealth of discoveries, according to Amati. While deer in non-residential habitats have an average life span of one to two years, some of the 45 deer collared in Carlisle lived as many as 16 years, a longevity Amati called “incredible.” In addition, the deer’s ranges were much smaller than expected, probably due to the availability of food in the form of ornamental shrubs and trees. “They never moved,” said Amati, noting this pattern bodes well for the success of culling because replacement deer are less likely to move in from other areas.
Board of Health Agent Linda Fantasia, reached later by telephone, confirmed that Lyme disease, transmitted through the bite of a tick that lives on deer, is “a significant problem.” There were 16 cases among Carlisle citizens last year, and four in just the first six weeks of this year. (The data includes only positive test results and does not count suspected cases that doctors treat with antibiotics.)
Residents split on hunting
D’Ann Brownrigg noted she is a birder who likes to spend time on conservation land and “I don’t want to get shot.” Huckery said that while she hears that often, “statistics don’t support your fears.”
Carol Foster of Nathan Lane supported aggressive action against deer. She said she still goes outdoors, but with some trepidation, “The woods have become a scary place.” A Carlisle forum on Lyme disease she attended last year alerted her to the prevalence of the illness. But Huckery urged her not to be dissuaded from hiking in the woods, “There are still all kinds of reasons to go out there.”
Sylvia Willard, Conservation Administrator, noted the issue of hunting on Carlisle conservation lands had never been raised before to her knowledge. Given the already heavy burden of managing wetlands protection, it is unlikely the ConsCom would move forward on the issue in the absence of pressure from townspeople or the Board of Health.
Willard said hunters often contact her regarding finding areas to hunt, and interested property owners should have no difficulty finding qualified hunters advertising in the Mosquito or through other avenues.
Say no to wildlife feeding
For those not ready to grab their guns, there is another way to help wildlife management. “Just say no to feeding,” said Huckery. Bird feeders that drop seed on the ground attract rodents and small mammals. White-footed mice are part of the deer tick life cycle, and feeding them may increase the incidence of Lyme disease. In addition, feeding encourages wildlife to approach houses where they may come in contact with children or pets. Coyotes and raccoons may spread rabies.
Huckery noted that coyotes provide controls on small-mammal populations, though they do not control deer. However, if well fed, the coyote litter size can rise from three pups to as many as nine. When the Acton DPW covered their dumpsters, wildlife problems evaporated. “It was that easy,” Huckery says.
Off-leash dog walking
On another subject, Huckery said the DFW is considering changing its policies regarding off-leash dogs on state land. Federal conservation lands have been closed to dogs, horses, and motor bikes in order to better protect wildlife. This, along with the passage of anti-dog regulations in several towns, has caused some state lands to become dog-congested. Huckery noted she has received many complaints from “people afraid of dogs running at them, or of having their kids knocked down.” Several members of the audience pointed to the Cranberry Bog as an area that has been degraded by off-leash dog-walking, with one person noting she has seen dogs chasing the sandpipers and killdeer who enjoy nesting there.
Before concluding, Amati answered a question that has been on the minds of many Carlisle residents —“ what happened to the bear? “We don’t know. Maybe it moved on,” he speculated. âˆ†
© 2008 The