Deer Management Alliance Wants More Enforcement

JEFF YATES, Wilton Bulletin 2/23/2005

The state legislator who proposed laws that would limit how close to a neighbor¹s home a bowhunter could hunt, and require hunters on smaller lots to get permission before tracking wounded deer onto another property, said these bills no longer have a chance to move forward.
   But members of a deer management alliance of Fairfield County towns still want to know why they were brought up in the first place.
   During a meeting in Wilton on Monday, Feb. 14, members of the Fairfield County Deer Management Alliance met with State Rep. John Frey, a Republican who represents Ridgefield in the 111th District, to ask why he proposed the new laws without contacting the alliance, or any of the local deer management groups, before drawing them up.
   More enforcement officers, not new laws, is what the state needs to address hunting problems, they said.
   The alliance is a consortium of members from towns throughout Fairfield County facing the issue of deer overpopulation. It is administered by the Southwestern Regional Planning Agency.
   An outgrowth of Wilton¹s Deer Management Committee¹s report that recommended creating a regional group devoted to the deer issue, the alliance¹s main purpose is to combine the knowledge and experience of local deer management committees so that each town can move forward without having to reinvent the wheel if another town has already come up with a solution.
   The alliance supports hunting as the only solution to curbing the deer overpopulation in the area. Sterilization and contraception of wild deer is not effective, according to the alliance, because it is cost prohibitive, unproven scientifically, and there are currently no sterilization techniques that are approved by the Food and Drug Administration, said Patricia Sesto, Wilton¹s director of environmental affairs.
   The group also pushes educational advocacy on issues from hunting, to Lyme disease to the problems with deer overpopulation.
   ³We¹re very disappointed that you didn¹t come and talk to your town committee or this committee,² before proposing the laws, said Ken Dartley of Wilton.
   Mr. Dartley and other members of the alliance said the two proposed laws, one which would require that hunters on properties of five acres or less get written permission to track a shot deer onto a neighbor¹s property, the other which would prohibit shooting a bow within 500 feet of a neighbor¹s house unless the hunter had permission, were unnecessary, and could severely limit the effectiveness of hunting as a management tool.
   Mr. Frey said the proposed laws did not appear to have a chance of making it out of committee in Hartford, and he did not expect them to be brought before the General Assembly for a vote. He said he never really expected them to have a chance of moving forward, but wanted to use them to ³open a dialogue² on the issue.
   ³It¹s not anything that I had any hope for passage. We¹ve had some situations that really come down to poor communication between the landowner and their neighbors,² in Ridgefield, said Mr. Frey of why he proposed the two bills.
   The proposed bills were cosponsored by state Senator Judith Freedman, a Republican of the 26th district representing Bethel, New Canaan, Redding, Ridgefield, Weston Westport and Wilton, and also signed by state Representative Hank Bielawa, a Republican of the 2nd district in Redding, Bethel and Danbury.
   Mr. Frey said he had proposed the bills to bring to light the fact that there are no laws restricting distance for bowhunting, while with firearms there is a 500 foot prohibition.
   ³Connecticut is the only New England state where bowhunting is totally unrestricted in terms of distance,² he said.
   Russ Kinne, of New Canaan said one thing people don¹t often realize is that bowhunting is an early morning and late evening activity, and not something that is often going on during the day while people are out.
   ³Bowhunting has almost zero effect on people. It¹s over mostly before they even get out of bed,² he said.
   Mr. Frey said he understands the need to control deer populations that have gotten out of control, and that most hunters maintain safe practices all the time.
   ³Responsible hunters do things the right way,² said Mr. Frey, adding that while he is not a hunter he favors hunting as a population control method, because ³we need it, we have a problem here,² he said.
   While the two bills he proposed are dead, Mr. Frey said he might still consider adding an amendment proposing a minimum bowhunting distance from a neighbor¹s house to another bill that is currently before the environment committee. That bill, which he supports, proposes opening Sunday hunting in the state and has a better chance of making it out of committee, although it doesn¹t look like it will be passed on for a vote either, said Mr. Frey.
   ³It doesn¹t appear that the votes are there in the committee to move it forward,² he said.
   As a minimum distance, Mr. Frey said he might propose that no bowhunting can occur within 200 feet of a neighbor¹s house without permission.
   ³I do think a neighbor, if you¹re shooting within 200 feet of their house, should have the right to a dialogue,² said Mr. Frey.
   Patricia Sesto, Wilton¹s director of environmental affairs, said having neighbors discuss hunting and safety is a good goal, but ³dialogue is different from permission,² she said.
   Members of the alliance said even that distance, which is less than the 500 feet set out in his previous proposal would significantly cut back on the amount of land open to hunting. In towns with smaller lot sizes, one adjoining neighbor could then stop all hunting, even if a majority of neighbors were in favor of it, by not allowing hunters to encroach on the 200 foot buffer, they said.
   ³In Darien, we have virtually no firearms allowed, and 60% of the hunting in the state is firearms. Your law would be severely damaging to our population containment program,² said Kent Haydock, of Darien.
   Nick Bell, of Weston, agreed with Mr. Haydock. He said in Weston, where properties are larger, the 200 foot restriction would still significantly impact hunting ability.
   ³Even in Weston, it¹s two acres, but you can have a lot that is only 200 feet wide,² he said.
   Mark Harper, an animal control officer in Weston, said setting up a 200 foot restriction would not only limit hunting on many residential lots, but would also make for tough enforcement.
   ³Now we¹re going to be heading out with tape measures and lasers,² to figure out if a hunter was within 200 feet of a nearby house, he said.
   ³The simpler bill to submit should have said that the projectile shall not leave the boundaries of the permitted property. Period. Simple. Over with. It¹s a law everyone can live with,² said Mr. Harper.
   Members of the deer management alliance said the state can create all the new laws that it wants, but if there are no conservation enforcement officers, or game wardens, to arrest people then there is no point in adding restrictions.
   ³I would say 90% of these complaints we get would disappear,² if the state had better enforcement said Mr. Harper.
   Mr. Frey said he agreed, and had even signed on to a bill that would hire more game wardens.
   ³We do have a problem with the shortage of conservation officers,² he said, adding that at its high point the state had 70 officers, currently there are only 17 covering the whole state.
   Mr. Harper said one of the problems with enforcement is that a game warden must be able to catch poachers or illegal hunters in the act, and having only a few officers covering the entire state really spreads them out and makes catching poachers less likely.
   ³You have to actually see these guys commit the crime in order to get a conviction,² he said, adding that local police officers are too busy with their own issues to focus on poaching, and even if they had the time, do not have training in the complex hunting regulations.
   ³The thing you don¹t want to do is unnecessarily restrict hundreds of law abiding citizens,² said Phil Palermo, of Bethel.
   Mr. Palermo and other members of the committee said the ³problem hunters², or poachers, are the ones causing many of the controversy and anger over hunting, and stopping them should be the state¹s first priority.
   ³I think getting more enforcement officers out there will have an impact, because I believe you really have to go after the poachers,² said Mr. Dartley.