2005-10-20 / Editorial

Action on deer problem maybe by mid-November

By Dotti Farrington

Town Councilors Monday received new interpretations of hunting laws and scheduled further discussion, but no further public hearings were scheduled on whether or not to revise local deer hunting options for the season that opens in early November.

The interpretations were written under the direction of Town Solicitor Lauriston Parks and were expanded on by Town Solicitor J. William W. Harsch.

Council discussion included references to a long-standing controversy between the state Deartment of Environmental Management and the National Parks Service that was interfering with getting permission to hunt deer at Beavertail State Park under the provisions that the land was given to both the town and the state by the federal government.

Harsch told the council that the issues involved factors at the park, including signage, and he projected that the issues would not be resolved soon. He recommended that any options for hunting deer at Beavertail State Park be deferred for this year.

Harsch suggested that the council could effectively consider making changes in local regulations governing hunting on townowned watershed lands.

Council President David Long said that Beavertail “is one small piece” in solving the island’s deer problems.

Councilor Barbara Szepatowski urged another public hearing “for those who did not really get a chance when DEM was here. They need to get their feelings out.”

She was referring to the Sept. 15 meeting at which about 45 residents heard from representatives of DEM and state Department of Health. They explained the status of the deer herd and its impact on human health, mainly from Lyme disease, which is spread by deer ticks and was described as being of epidemic proportions on the island. Residents were encouraged to ask questions but not to express their opinions at that time.

A year ago, a public hearing and written protest campaign led to limited hunting on the island even though the DEM urged expansion of hunting to cull the deer herd.

Long said that the council “has plenty of information for us to go forward. It is up to the council to decide. We do not need to hear more from the public. It is an emotionally split issue. We need to look and work toward solutions.”

Legal rulings

According to Parks and Harsch, the councilors, sitting as water and sewer commissioners, can make rules about use of town watershed lands, and the rules can be voted on without a public hearing. The solicitors also said that the council can make emergency rules without a public hearing, with only giving several days notice. On the other hand, the council can create or change ordinances through the process of a public hearing, which takes some weeks because of public notices announcing the upcoming hearing must be posted for several weeks.

Szepatowski said that she did not think that the controversy between state and federal regulations over hunting at Beavertail State Park would not be resolved for at least five years. She asked that the councilors use care in defining damage to “flora and fauna” by deer as damage to the watershed itself, and she urged caution in evoking “emergency need” for any regulation. She suggested that any action that is not “well-clarified and well-defined” would be subject to court appeal.

Councilman William Kelly noted that “damage to flora and fauna is damage to the watershed and this damage is serious.”

Szepatowski said that she was concerned about the safety of hunting by gun or bow, and the need to justify any action the council might take.

Councilman Julio DiGiando said the location of residences within 500 feet of some watershed land would limit any hunting somewhat. He also questioned the possibilities of hunting within wetlands and swamps. “We need to know if there are practicalities to be considered,” he said.

Public Works Director Steven Goslee, a hunter himself, said he has not seen or heard of reports of deer in the town watershed.

Councilman Michael Schnack said he does not see the situation as an emergency. “With all the emotional baggage, we need to be aware especially if it is not an emergency.”

Long questioned the council’s reluctance to act. He cited the deer destruction of forest lands on the island’s north end. He asked if the destruction were caused by insect or disease, would the council declare such an emergency. “This is a serious issue,” he said again.

Szepatowski asked for coded maps showing impacts of hunting laws, especially those that would be affected possibly by the revision of local hunting regulations. She said, “Some areas are not safe or feasible” for hunting and Schnack agreed. DiGiando said public land needs to be identified and then determinations need to be made about which are suitable and safe for hunting.

Long and others agreed that the map was an important suggestion. It was agreed that Town Planner Losa Bryer be asked to provide appropriate maps at the Oct. 28 council meeting, and then members would be prepared to act at their Nov. 14 meeting.

The councilors also noted some interest in their getting and distributing information to property owners who would be willing to let hunters take deer on their property, but no action was taken.

Szepatowski again voiced her concerns about non-resident hunters. At the September hearing, she said she would support more hunting by residents, but not by non-residents. DEM’s representative Lori Gibson told her that restricting non-residents is not an option because most wildlife matters, including deer herds, are controlled by federal law and federal funds.

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