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Eye in sky finds fewer deer in Westport than expected; next step uncertain

Updated 11:47 am, Friday, May 3, 2013
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A recent aerial survey of Westport has identified where the town's 600 deer dwell, but the group studying how to cope with the animals in a suburban habitat remains uncertain what to do about it.

The town's Deer Advisory Committee on Thursday reviewed results of the March aerial survey of the local deer population, which found "a total of 589 deer in 203 deer groups," with sizes of the groups ranging from one to eight individual animals. The five-hour nighttime thermal infrared survey was conducted by Vision Air Research, Inc., of Boise, Idaho, and submitted to the town on April 22.

The number of deer identified by the survey, however, is lower than state projections, and roughly equals 30 deer per square mile in town.

Committee members were also surprised to learn the survey found practically no deer groups in a large section at the center of town, south of the Merritt Parkway between North Compo Road and Bayberry Lane. Meanwhile, the large concentration of deer groups north of the Merritt was expected, large numbers just north of Compo Beach and in the Greens Farms vicinity were a surprise.

"It's lower than the state and it's lower than Fairfield County," committee member Linda McCracken said of the survey's findings.

Numbers gathered by the state, however, are questioned by some committee members, who feel they reflect a more haphazard approach based largely on random samples gathered throughout the county. Members indicated that surveys such as the aerial count should be conducted regularly every year or two to keep track of trends in the deer population.

The committee members will continue working on a final report for First Selectman Gordon Joseloff and the Representative Town Meeting. At the heart of the report, it is expected, will be a recommendation that the town attempt to develop some kind of contraceptive program to control the local numbers of deer.

"I think it's a very appealing recommendation we're coming up with," said member Michele Lamothe, arguing that a contraception program would be frowned on only by strong animal-rights advocates opposed to any kind of interference.

Member Peter Knight, however, said the local ordinance that bans hunting entirely within Westport's borders should be changed to allow it on private property.

"My proposal ... is that we get an amendment to the hunting law," he said, "and we allow individuals within the hunting laws ... to hunt on private property."

He said that otherwise the committee's report would "go in a file and nothing's going to happen."

Some members disagreed, including Chairwoman Elizabeth Pike. She said the committee shouldn't put forth minority opinions to the final report, but instead offer whatever ideas on which it reaches a consensus.

"But if you're not going to get consensus, what are you going to do?" Knight asked.

"You mean unanimity?" said member Alan Eugley.

Committee members appeared to be in general agreement that the group's recommendations would not necessarily lead to significant action by the town.

"People complain about the deer, but I don't think most people complain about it enough to pressure the government," Lamothe said.

"We're saying it's going to need some leadership," Eugley said.

However, who will be responsible for seeing the panel's recommendations put into action is another story. Members tossed around different ideas, including the possibility of neighborhoods that are having particular trouble with the animals be encouraged to organize to help fund deer-control programs for their section of town.