The Westport Representative Town Meeting's Environment, Health and Human Services, and Public Protection committees launched the second phase of their review of the town's deer-control policy Thursday night, establishing a plan of action for determining a new strategy on the issue.

The RTM committees will analyze problems associated with the local deer herd, such as Lyme disease, ecological deterioration, deer-vehicle accidents and "ornamental" damage to landscaping.

Each committee will also meet to study possible solutions to deer overpopulation, including birth control, hunting, the application of tick pesticides to deer and public education programs.

"We should focus on an integrated deer management solution," said Public Protection Committee Chairman Dick Lowen-

stein, District 5.

The RTM's search for such a strategy follows a round of public hearings on the issue last fall, which were punctuated by impassioned debate among RTM members and the public.

Thursday's meeting was calmer, but differences among RTM members and residents still emerged.

"I'm not sure there's a problem with a problem with deer. I think there's a problem with people," said Cathy Talmadge, District 6. "It's too dense; we have too many people living here."

Lowenstein, however, had a different viewpoint.

"I believe there are too many deer in town," he said. "Reducing the population is good for a lot of reasons."

Lowenstein did not indicate whether he would support hunting to cut Westport's deer population, an option that elicited a lukewarm response from other RTM members.

"There's not going to be public hunting in this town," said Sean Timmins, District 2.

The RTM's deer management review began after a petition submitted by Peter Knight, and signed by more than 200 residents, last May called on town officials to draft a new plan to manage the size of the local deer herd.

Westport has had a townwide hunting ban since 1971. A special act was passed by the state General Assembly in 1933, which granted the town authority to regulate hunting within its borders. No other municipality in Connecticut has this power.

Assistant Town Attorney Gail Kelly told the Westport News that revoking or modifying the town's hunting ban would not result in Westport ceding control of its hunting regulations to state authorities.

More than 30 people attended Thursday's meeting, although most were Staples High School students enrolled in the Advanced Placement environmental science class who had come for an extra credit assignment.

Knight was among the few non-students who did attend Thursday, although he did not speak because the meeting was closed to public comment.

He told the Westport News last December that he would not support sport-hunting with rifles or bows and arrows, but would "lean toward" controlled hunts with sharpshooters if the town's hunting ban was lifted.

But other residents at the meeting said they strongly oppose any form of deer hunting within town limits.

"I don't think the town really understands what's at risk here," Susan Pike said. "It is going to change people's way of life."

Pike attended the meeting with Eve Catarevas, another resident who opposes lifting the town's hunting ban. But both said they would be receptive to other "non-lethal" forms of deer-management, such as birth control and "4-poster" devices that apply tick pesticide to deer.

The three RTM committees will reconvene March 3 to discuss their findings and proposals. Committee members indicated, however, that any legislative action on the town's deer-control policy is not likely for several months.

"Our job is to fashion some sort of program that can at least be taken to the RTM to vote on," said Health and Human Services Chairman Jeff Wieser, District 4. "I don't think we're anywhere near that."

Any changes to the town's deer-control policy would need to be approved by the full RTM.