2005-10-27 / Front Page

New wildlife committee holds first meeting tonight

By Dotti Farrington

Members of the newly formed Jamestown Wildlife Committee, whose first job will be to make a recommendation to the Town Council on what to do about the island’s overly large deer herd, are due to be sworn in tonight at 7 o’clock at Town Hall when they convene for the first time.

Town Clerk Arlene Petit will advise them about town and state laws and rules about open meetings and procedures. The committee will also receive several documents forwarded by the Town Council about the deer herd, its impact on human health and the island’s environment, and the need to cull the herd by hunting or whatever method the committee might recommend. The committee’s findings and decisions are not expected to effect the deer hunting season that begin next Tuesday, Nov. 1.

The committee also is expected to set a schedule of meetings.

At Monday’s Town Council meeting, two residents made presentations pertaining to deer.

Linda DiMauro, president of the Humane Society of Jamestown, asked the council to hear a presentation by Holterra Wildlife Management that it hired to count Jamestown deer. Her request was referred to the new Wildlife Committee.

Nancy Crawford of Mast Street, a registered nurse who has made studies of Lyme disease, which is spread by deer ticks, wants to provide public education on prevention of the disease. She was advised by the council that she does not need council permission to proceed.

Humane approach

DiMauro asked the council to give Holterra the same audience it gave to the state Department of Environmental Management for its informational presentation about the island’s deer count. According to the DEM, the deer population is larger than can be sustained by the island environment, which the deer are destroying through overfeeding. The DEM also maintained that the deer are carriers of deer ticks, the bites of which cause Lyme disease in humans. The most effective way to eliminate the ticks is through control of the deer herd size.

DiMauro noted that the Holterra report was based on a different method than the one used by DEM, and that a full discussion about the implications of both methods will provide more data on which future decisions can be based. DiMauro proposed that a Tufts University expert be included in the presentation to talk about Lyme disease and deer. Tufts is a proponent of contraceptive methods for controlling the size of deer herds, which seen by others as still too experimental and expensive to be practical.

A presentation to the council will enable clear presentation of data, without possible distortions or misinformation that may have been presented by supporters of other deer studies and other methods of herd control, DiMauro said.

She also emphasized the need to recognize one issue that has not been given full discussion — the proportion of females to male deer on the island. She said the Holterra report listed 86 females to 14 males when the natural ratio is 60 to 50. She said that the island’s ratio is troubling.

DiMauro said the humane society still steadfastly believes that there are non-lethal solutions to control the size of any deer herd. “We are aware that hunting does occur on the island,” she said, adding, that the hunting should be done responsibly, as stated by Tufts professor Allen Rutberg.

“The female-biased sex ratio is very worrisome. This will obstruct any attempts to control population because of the enhanced reproductive capacity of such populations,” Rutburg contends. “This phenomenon is probably due to hunting practices biased heavily toward taking males. At the very least, landowners should be requiring anyone hunting on their property to kill at least one doe before they are allowed to try for a buck. Otherwise, hunting will make the situation worse, not better,” he said.

Prevention

Crawford said, “Hunting is not going to decrease Lyme disease on Jamestown any time soon. Deer would have to be reduced to about eight per square mile,” or less than 100 on the island, where counts indicated there are at least 500.

She also quoted a Connecticut authority that bowhunting is not effective. She said she was concerned about the safety of bowhunting when there are no restrictions on who can own and use the kind of compound bow that is used for hunting.

Crawford cited research that maintains that “the most consistent effective method for reducing an abundance of ticks on residential properties is to spray or otherwise broadcast acaricides onto vegetation where the ticks live.” She said the report said the chemical was 68 to 100 percent effective. She said the spray should be done professionally, and noted that the American Lyme Disease Association does not support deer culling as effective against the disease.

Responding to complaints that deer are destroying the ecosystem, Crawford said, “We are all most guilty of this. Look at the number of new home permits and increase in boat moorings. We need to take responsibility and stop blaming the animals. We need a proactive approach to true conservation of our island.”

Crawford, who has had Lyme disease, said she has researched much about the disease and about hunting, including through studies at Salve Regina University, where she said she learned about the importance of health promotion where there is a health concern. She said residents would benefit from having data about how to reduce the chances of being bitten by ticks.

She said she is organizing an extensive island-wide public education program on Lyme disease and would welcome volunteer help. She expects to develop it around a public health initiative called Healthy People 2010. She said she is working with Joyce Coutu, the Rhode Island co-ordinator of the initiative, and with other experts willing to help in Jamestown.

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