Wildlife Committee recommends hunting
As another deer hunting season came and passed, the Town Council continued to consider ways to control the island’s deer population based on recommendations made several times last year and in previous years.
The council’s Wildlife Committee, appointed in early October, presented its findings at the Jan. 23 council meeting to a council pleased by the committee’sworking speed. The councilors then referred the committee’s report to the town administrator and town solicitor for review.
Meanwhile, the Humane Society of Jamestown already launched a campaign of criticism about the committee’s effort.
C. Christopher Savastano, chairman and one of three members representing the community at large, presented the report. He credited Police Lieut. William Donovan with giving exceptional assistance and support in gathering and discussing information. He said all the committee members committed themselves to the goal of determining facts and options that are best for the town. “We did a ton of research and narrowed options, based on making safety the number one measure,” Savastano said.
Council President David Long said he was impressed with the “broadbased” recommendations of the committee. Councilor Barbara Szepatowski praised the committee based on reports that the members “met relentlessly, kept calm, and mediated disputes.”
Councilman William Kelly supported the recommendation that rifled barrels be used on shotguns, meaning a change in a local ordinance would be needed. Kelly emphasized the difference between a rifle, which he opposed, and use of a rifled barrel, “which has been around long enough and can be used here.” Acknowledging that he was not a hunter and was not familiar with hunting, Savastano said the research showed that the “accuracy of the rifled barrel option far outweighed the slight increase in distance.”
With support expressed earlier by some council members for Sunday hunts, Savastano said that the committee research found no documented regulation against Sunday hunting, although residents have long believed it to be a banned activity on the island.
The council agreed by consensus to Long’s referral of the report to staff to review “and advise us, and to do it expediently.” Long also promised Conservation Commission Chairman Christopher Powell that he was sure the Conservation Commission would have an opportunity to review and comment on any action involving hunting.
Environmental activist Hazel Turley said she would support a presentation to the Beavertail Park Advisory Committee, due to meet in May, about hunting in the park that was ruled out last year as illegal under current regulations governing the park.
The Wildlife Committee’s report says that the members “examined the deer estimation reports provided by the DEM (state Department of Environmental Review) and the Humane Society’s Holterra Wildlife Commission. Both document approximately the same number of deer on Jamestown, a figure of 30-40 deer per square mile. Studies have shown that in order to control habitat destruction and limit the number of vehicular/ deer collisions, the number of deer per square mile should fall within a range of 15-25. Additional studies have determined that the deer population must be reduced to around 10 per square mile to significantly reduce incidents of Lyme disease.”
The committee report says the members conducted “extensive research and careful examination of documented studies.” The members said they “agreed on a comprehensive approach to reducing the deer population, educating the public on methods to reduce the risk of contracting Lyme disease, and protecting valuable landscaping from destruction.”
For deer management, the committee urges the town to:
• Provide public education regarding the impacts of deer overpopulation, applicable hunting regulations, and how to facilitate hunting on private property.
• Encourage property owners to permit hunting on their land by developing a system that provides a method for residents to contact and interview suitable candidates to hunt on their property.
• Allow controlled hunts on appropriate, strategically selected town-owned properties;
• Solicit the Conanicut Island Land Trust to permit hunting on appropriate, strategically selected properties.
• Ask the DEM to add up to three additional deer tags per season for Conanicut Island, restricted to antlerless deer only.
• Ask the DEM to extend applicable hunting seasons on Conanicut Island into January, or for a time frame deemed most appropriate.
• Abolish the town’s antiquated ordinance that requires hunters on Conanicut Island to use less accurate, less humane, smoothbore shotgun barrels.
The committee also urges that the town introduce “an aggressive public awareness campaign” outlining methods to disrupt the tick/disease transmission cycle through data on tick control, personal protection, signs and symptoms of infection, and appropriate health-care resources.
The committee recommends application of effective pesticides on private properties by licensed applicators; application of effective pesticides on high-risk public properties where feasible, and development of an educational program to be instituted at the town schools.
The report calls for the town to provide information to residents, as well as builders and other property workers, about landscaping approaches that use vegetation that is less attractive to deer.
The humane society opposes the Wildlife Committee report. The society contends that the need to cull the deer herd does not warrant a hunting season because it would limit safe walking in some areas of the island. The society claims that the committee did give enough consideration to contraception of deer instead of killing them, even though the society’s own sources have said that the contraceptive approach is very limited. The society also criticizes the committee for showing “no interest” in their position, although the committee says it amassed reports on all aspects of the issues from various sources.
When the council appointed the committee, they received a report from Town Solicitor J. William W. Harsch that they could take quick action on an emergency basis to extend hunting options during the current season that just ended, and the council said at that time that it was interested in doing so, but no changes were put into effect.
Virtually all officials and residents who have spoken publicly agree that the island’s deer herd has grown to be a problem, with some people also saying the deer numbers are a health threat because the animals spread ticks that cause serious diseases in humans. However, there has been no agreement on how to control the deer herd, because some residents insist that non-lethal means must be used. Those promoting hunting have countered that nonlethal methods are not effective. Thus the herd has grown each year, causing environmentalists to predict a crowded habitat leading to disease in the deer themselves. This past year residents reported greatly increased cases of Lyme disease affecting people.
Named to the committee were Richard Rembijas, to represent the hunting, fishing and wildlife community; Wendy Harvey, Savastano, and Andrew Ford, to represent citizens at large; Steve Ryba, to represent the Conservation Commission; Nancy Crawford, to represent the Humane Society of Jamestown. Szepatowski was appointed liaison for the council.