2005-08-25 / Front Page

North enders say they are tired of deer problems

By Donna K. Drago

A group of residents from the far northern extremes of the island have had enough of the deer that are destroying their gardens and making many of them sick with tick-borne diseases.

The nine neighbors all live on “the block” that includes parts of East Shore Road, North Main Road, Summit Avenue, Providence Street and North Bayview Drive.

They wrote a letter addressed to the Town Council and town administrator on July 19 demanding that they “act now” to solve the deer crisis and to “use the Lapisky scientific and professional report as a guide” for what to do about the overabundance of deer in that area. Lapisky is the author of a report for the state Department of Environmental Management’s Division of Fish and Wildlife that suggests that “regulated hunting is the most feasible method of deer control,” and further notes that because of the growing island population, “the harvest needs to be increased to 120-150 animals per year to reduce herd size significantly.”

Rolf Knudsen of East Shore Road said that he has recently been diagnosed with Lyme disease for the first time. He said that he sees as many as “8 to 10 deer at a time” grazing on his property, and that he has started a campaign to “be aggressive with them.”

“I go out and yell,” he said. “I throw sticks at them,” he added, “but they always come back.”

Knudsen wants the council to “take steps to reduce the herd as quickly as possible,” a sentiment that is echoed by the others who signed the letter.

Karin Murray, also of East Shore Road, said that she is suffering through her third case of Lyme disease in as many years.

Murray, the mother of four and a resident of her neighborhood since 1985, is very concerned about the human health aspects associated with the deer population.

She said that in the past few years, the deer have increased so dramatically, that she “doesn’t know how I’d raise a family here” under the present conditions.

She sees deer “two to three times a day” in herds of “six or seven at a time,” and unless the town takes action the herd will continue to grow, Murray said.

She said she understands that many people “get emotional about this issue and think it’s morally wrong” to kill deer. And, she said that she wants her deerloving neighbors to understand that “we love deer.”

When they were still few and far between, “we used to run to the windows to watch them,” she added.

Even so, she would allow hunters on her property if a controlled hunt were to be approved, Murray said.

Ann Lane of East Shore Road has Lyme disease, too.

She said that she has trouble sleeping at night. “I’m so worried all the time” about her illness and its rapid spread in the area.

“I ask neighbors to look at my back” to see if she has any ticks on her that she can’t see, Lane said.

In one of several personal letters Lane has written to the Town Council, she said that “of 20 houses at the north end block all but five have had incidences of Lyme disease in the family.” She continued, “We are terrified to walk across our grass” for fear of being bitten by the disease carrying ticks.

“We have a plague, an epidemic,” Lane said.

Lane’s suggests a controlled hunt for reducing the herd. “Do it in a week and get it over with,” Lane said, adding, “Do it every year.”

Dr. Joseph England of Jamestown Family Practice said that his office treats, on average, “20 to 25 confirmed cases” of Lyme disease each year, and that 95 percent of them are cured with a course of antibiotics. Another 20 or so patients are what England called “Lyme maybes,” explaining that these people are treated for the disease because they have the symptoms even though testing for Lyme is negative.

In the early stages of the disease, testing is very unreliable, England said.

“We get a lot of calls” from people who have concerns about the disease because they have seen ticks on their bodies, he said.

Dr. James Gloor of Wickford Medical Walk-In also treats a number of Jamestown patients who have Lyme disease.

He said that his office sees “three to six patients at any given time” who have Lyme disease, and that the number of cases has increased in recent months.

Nancy Swanson of East Shore Road called the deer “a holy terror.”

“They’re changing the ecology” of the neighborhood, Swanson said. Because she no longer has any brush on her property, “the birds are gone,” she added.

Swanson does not have Lyme disease yet, but that disease is not her biggest concern “I’m afraid someone’s going to get severely injured, or die” as a result of a vehicle accident, she said.

“They’ve run in front of me several times,” Swanson said.

The Press talked to Swanson at 9 a.m. Tuesday and she said that she had already seen three deer in her yard since waking up that morning, and she typically sees “a dozen or more each day.”

“They have to have a shoot,” Swanson said about the solution to the problem, adding, “Contraception, come off it!”

The letter sent by the group of north-end families states that “We voted for a Town Council to make decisions. When people in the Middle Ages were faced with the bubonic plague epidemic because of rats, they got rid of the rats.” The letter continued, “We need to eliminate the overpopulation of deer,” and states that the DEM report “tells you what you need to know and what you need to do.”

A recent University of Rhode Island study by tick researcher Thomas Mather bolsters the north enders argument, saying that “an increasing number of Rhode Islanders were infected with Lyme disease or another tickborne disease this year, given the high numbers of ticks his research team has found in statewide surveys.

“Our statistics show that tick abundance this year was up 84.5 percent over last year’s levels, and the tick counts for this summer are 109 percent higher than the previous 13 year average,” said Mather, director of URI’s Center for Vector-Borne Disease.

While data on human Lyme disease cases occurring in Rhode Island is typically recorded by the state Department of Health, Mather is convinced that this year will be a record-breaking year for cases of the disease, he said.

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