Deer control: DEP offers help to manage it

 

It’s an issue that sparks spirited debate among neighbors in Redding and elsewhere concerning what ought to be done about Bambi, who, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), is most abundant in Fairfield County, causing deer-related motor vehicle accidents, ecological damage and cases of Lyme disease.

Howard Kilpatrick, a DEP wildlife biologist, presented supporting evidence at a meeting of the Fairfield County Deer Management Alliance at town hall last week. Mr. Kilpatrick told the standing-room-only crowd that although deer numbers in the county have peaked and begun to decline because of deer control measures, more can be done to bring deer numbers to a healthier level.

The number of deer killed by vehicles has also decreased since the deer population peaked in 2000, he added.

The DEP uses an aerial method to count deer every other year. Mr. Kilpatrick said since it’s impossible to count every one, the actual deer population is likely double what DEP estimates. He added that DEP’s Zone 11, which more or less encompasses Fairfield County, has the largest deer problem in the state.

DEP estimates there are now roughly 60 deer per square mile in Fairfield Country; Mr. Kilpatrick said the target is 10 to 20 deer per square mile.

Mr. Kilpatrick discussed state programs that are in place to help landowners and towns manage deer overpopulation.

Towns, as well as nonprofit landowners and homeowners’ associations, can take advantage of Public Act 03-192, he said. Under the act, these parties may submit a deer management plan to DEP for approval. Deer could be reduced any time by any method in areas where they pose a “severe nuisance” and cause ecological damage, Mr. Kilpatrick said.

He explained that DEP is offering to work with towns to help reduce deer numbers, but towns have to approach DEP and implement the plan themselves.

A Redding official sent a letter to DEP showing interest in help, Mr. Kilpatrick said, and though DEP responded, nothing came of the communication. So far, no towns have formally requested help in creating a deer management plan, he said.

Mr. Kilpatrick said DEP will work with towns to “maximize their approach and use of all available tools.”

A large part of that encompasses opening up land to hunting. Mr. Kilpatrick said that in Redding, nonprofit landowners own 96 parcels of land larger than five acres that could all be used for hunting. The town owns 53 parcels larger than five acres that could also be used.

Overall, DEP is working to expand hunting throughout the state by exploring hunting on Sundays, which isn’t currently allowed, the sale of venison and expanding sharpshooting on private land, Mr. Kilpatrick said.

Some in the audience noted the high cost to hunters for the hunt itself and for processing venison. They also explained there isn’t a commercial market in the state for venison, though it may be donated to the needy through programs like Hunters for the Hungry.

Lyme disease was also a topic of concern. Doug Hartline, the town’s health officer and sanitarian, questioned whether DEP is coordinating with the health department, as was done in the case of West Nile virus.

“This is serious, real and can be resolved,” said David Streit, deer management alliance chair.

Three people who suffer either directly or indirectly from Lyme disease shared their experiences at the meeting and described both the emotional and physical effects of the disease.

Mr. Streit described deer overpopulation as an “incredibly harmful and destructive situation that has been allowed to evolve.”

“I was shocked that people were content to live like this,” he said.