Town can no longer ignore deer problem
I applaud the efforts of the Town Council to address the deer problem, particularly Councilor Eugene Mihaly’s assessment that there has been too much study, with too little follow-up action.
The data is abundant: deer overpopulation on Conanicut Island is out of control. I see deer nearly every day during the 10-minute island commute to and from work – in broad daylight. Considering they are more active during twilight, I can only imagine what the remaining 23 hours and 50 minutes are like. It’s time to break free from paralysis by analysis on this issue. Here are four reasons why.
First and foremost, the health issue. Late-stage Lyme disease can be debilitating, including abnormal heart rhythms, heart failure, Bell’s palsy and arthritis. Both my wife and I have been diagnosed and treated for Lyme multiple times. While treatment with antibiotics relieves some of the immediate effects of fever, headache and fatigue, the lingering effects, like aching joints, are persistent.
Second, the ecology and habitat of the island is being altered. Shown earlier this year in a study at the URI Alton Jones Campus, the overpopulation of white-tailed deer is decimating the density and diversity of native plants and trees, and exacerbating the expansion of invasive species. Apparently they prefer to eat native plants, allowing invasive species to flourish. During this study, deer “exclosures” were constructed to keep the browsing deer out. Inside the fence, where deer couldn’t gain access, seedlings of oak, sugar maple, hickory and tulip trees were abundant. Outside the fence, few could be found.
Another salient point is the Alton Jones Campus has about 30 deer per square mile, while on Conanicut Island we have estimates of up to 50 per square mile.
Third, the lack of predation contributes to the overpopulation. Nature’s circle of life is nonexistent for Jamestown’s deer, and reintroduction of a natural predator would just trade one problem for another. Hunting pressure is obviously not sufficient to control the population. In fact, the deer on the island seem to have no fear of humans at all.
Finally, the financial impact can be significant. We try to maintain a nice yard, and have had to either remove permanently or replace thousands of dollars in trees, shrubs and flowers. Even plants that are advertised to be “deer resistant” are not immune, causing an expensive repellent spray program that washes away when it rains. It seems nothing is deer proof.
All indications are that the deer population should be about 100 animals – or 10 per square mile – to minimize the threat of Lyme disease. Additionally, according to the Alton Jones study, research has shown that when deer herds are reduced to about 15 per square mile, native species can make a comeback.
Eradication, sterilization and birth control have all been mentioned. Any or all of these in conjunction might work. It makes no difference to me, but I know that the “do-nothing” approach isn’t working. It’s time to take action.