The Nature Conservancy will be holding a limited deer hunt at the Devil's Den Preserve on specific dates from Nov. 17 to Dec. 7 in an effort to manage the deer population in the region. It will take place during the upcoming State-designated shotgun/rifle hunting season.

The hunt will be conducted on the following weekdays: Nov. 17-18 (Wednesday and Thursday); Nov. 22-24 (Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday); Nov. 29-Dec. 2 (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday); and Dec. 6-7 (Monday and Tuesday).

Devil's Den Preserve will be closed to visitors on these days, and signs will be posted at all public entrances to the preserve. The Conservancy asks that the public respect its decision to close the preserve and require that residents and their families, guests and tenants refrain from visiting the preserve on these days.

The deer management effort will only take place in select areas of the preserve's interior, away from the edges of the preserve and any neighboring residences. The Conservancy is working with experienced sportsmen who have been recruited by staff at The Den and have knowledge of the preserve and local area. Venison obtained through this management activity will be donated to Hunters for the Hungry, a statewide nonprofit group that accepts donations of venison for distribution to local charities and food pantries.

The Conservancy said it is confident that its annual limited hunt in combination with the increased deer management efforts regionally, will eventually maintain a sustainable level of resident deer at Devil's Den Preserve and much of the surrounding landscape of the Saugatuck Forest Lands, ultimately, it added, improving the ecological condition of these forest lands.

Questions about this event may be addressed to Steve Patton, director of landscape programs and Saugatuck Forest Lands project, at 203-226-4991, ext. 201, or spatton@tnc.org.

The size of the deer herd in Fairfield County varies from town to town; in 2000, best estimates of deer abundance were in the range of 60 individuals per square mile, higher than in any other county in Connecticut. The Nature Conservancy has been particularly concerned about the ecological damage to the region's forest caused by the excessive herbivory of overabundant deer.

When The Nature Conservancy launched its effort to manage deer at Devil's Den Preserve in 2001, very few managers of natural areas in the region were managing deer and the deer population was well beyond the carrying capacity of the forest, it said. For example, the only large tracts of forest land under deer management were two tracts of forest located next to reservoirs managed by the Aquarion Water Co. and these properties had only been open to deer hunting for one year.

Sustained over time, the Conservancy said, this unnaturally large population of deer damaged the forest understory and contributed to the gradual loss of native flowering plants. More importantly, many of tree species, especially the oaks, were unable to regenerate because the acorns and saplings were consumed by deer. Any forest must have the opportunity to regenerate, and research has shown that deer densities of as few as 26 per square mile may prevent regeneration in oak forests. Healthy forests with diverse and complex understories are found where deer are even less abundant, in the range of eight to twelve deer per square mile, according to the Conservancy.

The Nature Conservancy is an international nonprofit organization that preserves plants, animals and natural communities representing the diversity of life on Earth by protecting the lands and waters they need to survive. To date, the Conservancy and its more than one million members have been responsible for the protection of more than 119 million acres and five thousand miles of rivers worldwide.

More information is available online at www.nature.org