Wildlife Committee sets working agenda
The first meeting of the newlyformed Wildlife Committee on Oct. 27 got off to an auspicious beginning.
Within minutes, Chris Savastano, a computer technology teacher at Middletown High School, was established as committee chairman by a unanimous vote. He motioned to appoint Nancy Crawford, a registered nurse representing the Humane Society of Jamestown, as recording secretary, which was also unanimously approved.
After swearing in members, Town Clerk Arlene Petit explained the state Open Meetings Act and laid out the ground rules for a newly established committee to conduct business.
Town Councilor Barbara Szepatowski, council liaison to the committee, encouraged members to put their emotions aside when dealing with the sensitive issues that the committee will be asked to handle. Savastano asked members to briefly state what they perceived the charge of the committee to be, and why they wanted to be on it.
Not surprisingly, the deer management issue was the primary reason for members wanting to be appointed to the committee.
Of the seven voting members, six of whom were present, only two opposed hunting. However, they claimed to understand the need for the herd to be culled and said that their interest was in the future and in the safety aspects of the hunt.
Crawford, who is studying Lyme disease at Salve Regina University, said that her interests were in educating the public about the dangers of Lyme disease and the methods of reducing and preventing the spread of that illness.
After listening to the committee members, Savastano pointed out that “there are two separate issues that we are here to solve,” he said. “The prevention of Lyme disease and stopping the destruction of habitat,” he added.
“We are not here to discuss whether or not to hunt deer on Conanicut Island. We already have hunting on the island. We are here to identify immediate and long-term solutions for the two issues that make reducing the size of the herd necessary,” Savastano said.
“I am not convinced that the DEM (state Department of Environmental Management) is listening to the residents of the island and working in their best interests,” he said.
“Two years ago, unsolicited, the DEM gave the Town Council a report stating that the deer population was too large. Their solution was to explore opening the hunt by including Beavertail State Park,” according to Savastano. “I live by the state park. Using the DEM’s survey, the entire park has a population of less than 20 deer, and only part of the park is targeted for hunting,” he noted.
“I consider the park to be one of our most valuable resources. I do not see the purpose of closing the facility for five days every week to hunt for less than 20 deer that are just going to move when they feel the pressure of hunters,” Savastano said.
“The habitat of the larger herd at the south end of the island is actually 1.5 miles north of the park boundaries on a large, privately owned parcel of land. I do not believe the owners allow hunting on that property,” he noted.
“If the DEM listened to the residents of the north end of the island, they would be proposing solutions concerning the deer population in that area. Depending on whose count you choose to believe, the size of the island herd is 400 or more, and the majority of the deer live in the north end, according to the newly elected chairman.
“The question is, will deer hunting eradicate Lyme disease and stop the destruction of habitat?” Savastano asked rhetorically. “The answer is probably no on both issues because not enough deer can be harvested to be effective in the area that needs the population reduced.”
“The herd would have to be culled by 100 deer or more to lower the proliferation of deer ticks, the primary carriers of Lyme disease. The reason the herd cannot be effectively reduced in the north end of the island is that most of the area is not huntable,” Savastano said.
“First, the population density is so high that there is not enough space between dwellings to shoot a rifle, shotgun, or bow and arrow and be in compliance with the hunting ordinances. Second, there is not enough public land in that area to hunt the numbers needing to be harvested. And third, not enough residents on private land that meet the requirements are giving hunters permission to hunt, he noted.
“Our job as a committee is to overcome these challenges. I will prepare an agenda for the next meeting on November 10 that will address these issues,” Savastano said.
Szepatowski volunteered to bring maps of all public land that can be hunted, and committee members agreed to think of ways to encourage landowners with land that meets the hunting criteria to participate in the effort. The committee will also explore other avenues for immediate and longterm solutions to the problems.
“One day this committee will put the deer issue behind us,” Savastano said. “Then we will have other challenges that we will need to address,” he noted.
“The next problem could be raccoons, or coyotes, or the preservation of an endangered species,” Savastano continued. “That is why this committee was formed, to listen to the problems, seek advice from the various expert resources at our disposal, and make recommendations to the Town Council about the best method of resolving each issue,” the committe chairman said.