Monday, November 23, 2015

2090. Conservationists and Animal Rights Activists at Odds on How To Control Deer Population

By The Associated Press, The New York Times, November 22, 2015
Deer hunting has been a preferred method of controlling deer population in the U.S.
BOSTON — A plan to allow hunting in state forestland within sight of downtown Boston to thin the deer population is coming under fire from activists who insist that contraception and other more humane methods be used.

The hunt in the Blue Hills Reservation is needed to reduce a deer population estimated at 85 per square mile, far above the ideal of six to 18, according to state wildlife biologists. Hunting has not been allowed in the park since the state set it aside for public recreational use in 1893.

The deer are a threat to public safety and to the forest ecosystem, said Matthew Sisk, the deputy commissioner of the State Department of Conservation and Recreation, which oversees the park. The area is popular with hikers, mountain bikers and cross-country skiers.
The plan is to allow 98 hunters, armed only with shotguns, in the reservation for each two-day hunting session — Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, and Dec. 7-8. Only about 3,000 of the reservation’s 7,000 acres will be open to them. Hunters will be allowed to take up to six deer, and the goal is to get down to the ecologically stable level of fewer than 20 deer per square mile, which state officials acknowledge may not be reached this year.

“The problem that is most vexing to me is forest health,” Mr. Sisk said. “You can see 250 to 300 yards into the woods, and that is not healthy. The deer are eating the under-canopy of the forest.” That, in turn, threatens other wildlife and plant species, he said.

There have been increased reports of vehicles striking deer in recent years, and under current conditions the forest is more prone to fires, Mr. Sisk said, which could threaten homes in the densely populated suburbs that surround the reservation.

Animal welfare groups say the state did not properly consider nonlethal methods to control the deer population.

“Contraception is a humane, long-lasting approach to population control, and we believe this approach should be prioritized,” said Laura Hagen, the deputy director of advocacy at the Angell Animal Medical Center in Boston.

Mr. Sisk said that the state had considered contraception and sterilization, but that the science behind those methods was still developing. They were also determined to be too expensive.

“A hunt is a very effective, low-cost way of culling a herd,” he said.
Allen Rutberg, the director of the Center for Animals and Public Policy at Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, said deer contraception programs in other areas of the country had worked.

But Mr. Rutberg, who said he had no official position on the best way to control deer in the Blue Hills, acknowledges that contraception is labor intensive and expensive. The contraceptive that blocks fertilization is delivered to does as an injection.

“You have to be able to reach enough animals to treat them,” he said.
The state’s reasoning does not sit well with Rob Morrissey of Braintree, who said he hikes in the reservation every day and was a member of a group called Friends of the Blue Hills Deer.

“A lot of people don’t like to see the animals killed,” he said. “I think it’s worth the extra cost to have a more humane way to control the deer population.”

Friends of the Blue Hills Deer is not affiliated with Friends of the Blue Hills, a nonprofit that works with the state to preserve and to protect the reservation.

The latter organization agrees that the deer herd needs to be thinned, but has no official stance on a method to do so, said the executive director, Judy Jacobs.

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