Editorial / Deer-management group must stay out in the open
Published 3:15 pm, Thursday, June 30, 2011
With apologies to fans of 1940s animated cinema who still shed a tear when the adorable fawn Bambi is suddenly orphaned, deer are not always adorable.
Nor are they always beautiful, majestic or, for that matter, as fast as we often give them credit for -- especially when their hooves are slipping on parkway pavement as cars veer to avoid them.
And no, deer are not always as innocent as the adjective "doe-eyed" would make them out to be. Ask anyone who has suffered with Lyme disease or had thousands of dollars worth of landscaping or crops nibbled to the stems.
Fairfield County is a prime example that dense deer populations and 21st century suburbs are not the best match. Wherever you stand on hunting, some form of control is necessary to thin herds that environmental officials say can double in size in as few as two or three years.
So it is especially troubling that the Fairfield County Deer Management Alliance -- of which Westport is a member -- has been cited for violations of the state's Freedom of Information Act.
More troubling still is the group's lack of contrition. That suggests the alliance doesn't think it's such a big deal for government officials to fail to let the public know when and where they planned to meet, no big deal that it failed to make minutes of its meetings available to the public within the time the law requires.
The alliance was founded so municipalities could share information and adopt a regional approach to a regional problem. It has representatives from 18 towns and cities.
Part of its mission, according to its website, is to inform the public. Yet it has been selective in how and at what pace it informs the public of its own activities.
The FOI commission found the alliance violated state law when it failed send notification of its October 2010 meeting to town clerks in all the communities. It also violated the law when it failed to make minutes available to the public within seven days of its March 2010 and May 2010 meetings.
The alliance has serious work to do.
Deer are the primary host of ticks that carry Lyme disease. Our state has the nation's second highest incidence of Lyme disease, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control. Studies by state wildlife officials have shown a direct link between a reduction of dense deer populations and a reduction in reported Lyme disease cases.
On Connecticut roadways each year, 18,000 deer are fatally struck, the state estimates, causing $28 million in vehicle damage.
Finally, deer eat 5 to 10 lbs. of forage a day, according to environmentalists. They can destroy expensive ornamental landscaping and crops when they forage near humans. They can seriously damage ecosystems in natural settings when too many deer defoliate an area.
So yes, management of deer populations is serious and necessary.
The FOI ruling resulted from a complaint filed by Michael Gorfinkle, co-founder of a group that advocates for "non-lethal" means of herd management. Gorfinkle claimed the FOI violations were part of a pattern by the alliance to avoid being transparent in doing the peoples' business.
Responding to questions from this newspaper, David Streit, the alliance chairman, was unapologetic about the violations and instead painted his group as a victim of Gorfinkle.
"In reality, this is just another case of the misuse of a government agency at the expense of taxpayers to assure that the residents of Fairfield County continue to needlessly suffer from high deer densities and the resulting tick-related diseases," he wrote.
Westport's representative of the alliance, Colin Kelly, declined comment.
Demanding that government officials conduct business openly and obey the law is hardly a "misuse." That the complainant may be a critic of an agency underscores the appearance of secrecy.
The alliance owes county residents an apology for violating the law and should pledge to be open and transparent in everything it does.
Secrecy, foot dragging and smugness are not options for any public body.