Deer control proposal sparks disagreement
The atmosphere was tense March 1 as Wildlife Committee Chairman Chris Savastano read aloud his committee's recommendations at the workshop with the Town Council.
A passionate audience was divided between hunting advocates and those who support culling the herd by non-lethal methods.
Town Council Vice Chairman Julio DiGiando along with council members Michael Schnack and Barbara Szepatowski listened to the recommendations, fielded questions, and discussed all possibilities for controlling the island deer herd. Council President David Long and Councilman Bill Kelly were not present.
The state Department of Environmental Management's Lori Gibson, a supervising wildlife biologist, reported that the herd was only diminished by 74 deer this year, and only 48 were reported by hunters. She said 18 vehicular kills and nine deaths by other causes made the balance. The hunters took 13 by muzzleloaders, nine by shotgun, and 25 by bow and arrow. Dick Rembijas, a wildlife committee member representing the hunters, estimated that probably a third more were taken by hunters that were not reported or by using mainland tags.
Gibson said that the island herd numbered approximately 350 to 400 deer, meaning an average population of 35 to 40 per square mile. She said the herd needed to be culled to 20 per square mile to be manageable and 10 per square mile would be ideal.
Because the herd is comprised of a ratio of 86 females to 14 males when the ratio should be 60 to 50, according to the Holtera report initiated by the Jamestown Humane Society last year, diminishing the herd by only 100 deer is even more troubling. With the female population being as high as it is, they will reproduce in even greater numbers and the population will more than likely increase than decrease unless measures are taken to reduce the herd.
Linda DiMauro, president of the Humane Society of Jamestown continued to encourage contraception, saying that all methods should be considered. However, according to Gibson and Savastano, the costs are prohibitive and not practical or immediately effective. Savastano, who is not a hunter, said that according to research it would take 10 years to cull the herd using current methods. According to DiMauro, contraception would cost approximately $1,000 per animal.
When Lt. William Donovan, the wildlife committee liaison representing the police department, asked if deer were edible after receiving an injection for contraception, Gibson said, "No." Once the deer receives an injection, the meat is tainted and not fit for human consumption, she said.
Nancy Crawford, a wildlife committee member representing the humane society and a strong opponent of hunting, said that approximately 25 hunters lived on the island, and she did not think it was right that the lives of 6,000 residents should be put in jeopardy for the enjoyment of 25 people.
Donald Forrest, a longtime Jamestown resident and advocate of hunting, said that he did not want his taxes to pay for contraception. He encouraged the council to open hunting on town land. "Take safety precautions in hunting areas - wear orange during hunting season," he said.
Earlier in the meeting, Crawford cited the hunting accident that recently occurred concerning Vice President Dick Cheney as an example of why we should not encourage hunting on the island. "Just because Cheney made a mistake, don't make everyone on the island pay for it," Forrest said. He also mentioned that a local game warden was a good idea.
Town Councilor Barbara Szepatowski, who is also the owner of Paws & Claws pet center, and an active animal rights advocate, drafted a proposal for state Senator Teresa Paiva Weed (D-Jamestown, Newport) and Representative Bruce Long (RJamestown, Middletown) to take to the state legislature. The proposal suggested the use of sharpshooters escorted by Jamestown police officers to cull the herd by "night-jacking" to ensure that the maximum number of deer are killed in the shortest amount of time. Szepatowski is opposed to hunters not living on the island to come here to hunt.
Gibson said that it was important for island residents who had eligible plots of land to open them for hunters, if culling the herd by hunting is going to be successful. She noted that landowners had every right to dictate the hunt on their own terms. They could designate bow and arrow only if they so desired, as well as the number of hunters who could participate at any given time. The landowners could also demand that hunters give notice in advance, stating when they were going to hunt and for how long.