Council allows deer hunting at Beavertail
The deer herd has increased so much that this year's road kills already exceeds last year's total of 16, and the two months of greatest road kill, November and December, are just getting started. That was how the increase was emphasized Monday at a special meeting of the Town Council on deer hunting.
After a 90-minute discussion between local and state Department of Environmental Managemeent on the topic, the council, with one member absent, voted 4-0 to "support" the state proposal to allow deer hunting with bow and arrow at Beavertail State Park from next Monday, Nov. 13, through Jan. 31. About 35 residents attended the session.
The vote adopted hunting boundaries as detailed by the state, and called for the state to provide additional signs within the park. Hunting will be allowed on weekdays only through Dec. 31, and then seven days a week during January.
Voting to support the hunt were Council President David Long, Vice President Julio DiGiando and Councilmen Michael Schnack and William Kelly. Absent was Councilwoman Barbara Szepatowski.
The growing numbers of deer are destroying both wild and landscaped plant life, endangering rare plant and small wildlife species, and moving toward increased self-destruction through road kills and starvation, according to Lori Gibson, supervising wildlife biologist with the DEM's Division of Fish and Wildlife.
She said the 2004 surveyed total of 400 was believed to be close to 500, and growing.
She projected the hunting at Beavertail park could cull 10 deer or less, but it could establish the safety of hunting in the park and encourage some private landowners to allow controlled hunting on their property.
DEM officials pledged to assist the Town Council and town staff with efforts to encourage more landowners to open their land to deer hunters.
Gibson said culling about 120 deer on the island annually would effectively reduce and control the herd so it is not destructive to itself or other species. She calculated that if the Jamestown deer herd ever reaches 800, extensive starvation and permanent damage to other species would result. She said that would represent great cruelty to the deer and other wildlife.
Gibson said opposition to bow hunting was barbaric. She said about 99 percent of arrow wounds that are not fatal heal relatively easily. She described hunter proficiency courses as effective and said archers have an outstanding safety record.
Some residents have asked for a local weigh station. The DEM official issued an invitation to anyone interested in providing a local weigh station to contact her office to volunteer.
Gibson said archers, who must prove training and proficiency to get a permit, may take a maximum of three deer at Beavertail, and with proper permits for guns, could take an additional six deer elsewhere on the island. However, the limited land for hunting makes that maximum of nine per hunter unlikely, she said.
Long told the audience that the evening's meeting was for local and state officials only, with the purpose to help the councilors decide if they would allow the hunting season at Beavertail park. He said no resident would be recognized to speak except by council invitation. "We've talked about this over several years, at many meetings. The public has had many opportunities to voice opinions. There is no new information," Long said.
Residents have been split about hunting on the island. Some agreed the herd needs to be culled for many reasons, including because of the connection between deer and the ticks that infect people with Lyme disease. Others opposed any deer hunting, arguing that it is cruelty to animals and unneeded because of other ways to try to curtail deer population growth.
Long later accepted comments from Christopher Savastano, chairman of the year-old council appointed Wildlife Committee; and Frank Meyer, a member of the Beavertail State Park Advisory Committee. Both are opposed to hunting deer in the park.
Savastano challenged state figures about the number of deer that populate the park, and asked why the park advisory committee was not consulted as he and some others believed was required. After the meeting, he questioned the absence of Town Solicitor J. William W. Harsch, who, Savastano said, was asked to provide an opinion on issues about jurisdiction of the park. Harsch in late October was asked for an interpretation about authority over the park. The solicitor told the
council at that time that a court ruling might be needed, but that it would take a long time to pursue.
Savastano also criticized the state for repeatedly defining the hunting in the park hunt as an opportunity to demonstrate that it can be safe and effective. "We are not a test tube or beaker. We do not need demonstrations," he protested.
Meyer repeated his position about documents that govern the park, He contended that the state must consult with the advisory committee and he said the DEM had not consulted with the committee.
In reply, Larry Mouradjian, acting associate director of the DEM's Bureau of Natural Resources, which includes the Division of Fish and Wildlife that regulates hunting. Mouradjian said the DEM reviewed the documentation and is convinced that it is following agreements for proper management of the property. "Whether the advisory committee agrees is not the issue," he said.
Michael Lapisky, deputy chief of the state wildlife division, said the matter of deer hunting at the park was a biological concern, not a political issue. "Whether biological or political, we need a decision, one that is to maintain our objective goal, to control the wildlife population as mandated by the state Constitution. We are asking the Town Council for permission to do what we are mandated to do."
The council asked if the state would have the hunt regardless of the town's decision. Lapisky said, "We are not saying we'll do it regardless. We are not being abrasive."
He detailed the experience on Block Island, where the deer herd grew to 80 to 90 deer per square mile. After 20 years of DEM offers to cull the herd being rejected, residents there became exasperated and asked the DEM to kill them all. It still is a problem there," Lapisky said.
Town Administrator Bruce Keiser said a pre-meeting review with pertinent officials indicated that documentation requires consultation but not approval between the state and the town. "But it has not been (court) tested, he noted." Keiser spoke about the "dynamic process" of deer numbers and territories, and he reviewed findings in recent weeks about island land where hunting is allowed.
He suggested councilors review the no hunting rule on 53 acres at North Pond reservoir and add archery hunting at the town's long strip of property on North Main Road between America Way and the town landfill.
Keiser reported that Public Works Director Steven Goslee opposes use of the watershed land for any public use because it could compromise safety of the town water supply, but a field trip Monday afternoon indicated evidence that "people are accessing the area anyway." Keiser said the finding suggested the town needs to review its management of the site, and that could include a plan to allow limited access such as for hunting.
The councilors and residents expressed annoyance that the DEM did not attend a meeting as promised. They later learned that the absence was caused by Gibson's being out of state that night and Lapisky's having an unscheduled medical need. Gibson apologized for their absence, and the council accepted their explanations.
One councilman this week said he perceived a few DEM comments as confrontational, but state officials insisted on their sincerity and goals of working for overall wildlife management goals. Long said councilors were asking questions to get information and not to be antagonistic or confrontational. "The council is trying to do the right thing. We are all on the same page," he said. DEM officials concurred they were acting "in good faith, forthright and responsibly."
Last year's count included 47 deer taken by hunting and 16 by highway accidents. It also is believed by some that about a dozen deer were taken by hunting and not officially reported.
Opponents to hunting in general and to hunting at Beavertail specifically wanted to know why the DEM is insisting on hunting at the park, where the herd is believed to be relatively small and hunting would have a nominal impact on the deer population, while disrupting general public use of the park. The state said the hunt would not cause danger and would not require closure of the park. "The impact (on the deer herd) may be small, but it would be a start," DEM officials said.