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Two towns take different paths in dealing with deer population

Published 7:50 am, Sunday, December 2, 2012
  • Another controlled deer-hunting season is under way at the Devil's Den nature preserve in Weston, while the committee studying ways to control deer numbers in Westport is finishing a report that favors non-lethal means. Photo: Jarret Liotta / Westport News contributed
    Another controlled deer-hunting season is under way at the Devil's Den nature preserve in Weston, while the committee studying ways to control deer numbers in Westport is finishing a report that favors non-lethal means. Photo: Jarret Liotta

 

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As another deer hunt continues at Devil's Den in Weston, Westport's Deer Management Committee prepares to present its recommendation to town officials that it not follow a similar course to control the burgeoning herds.

The committee's final report on the controversial subject of controlling the local deer population won't go to First Selectman Gordon Joseloff until February, but the its first two recommendations center on creating a more accurate headcount of deer in Westport through an infrared aerial survey, and the introduction of a contraceptive aimed at reducing the growth in the number of deer in town.

"It's a contraceptive program that's used by darting deer," said Susan Pike, the committee chairwoman. "We estimate (it) would cut our deer herd down by half within five years, where we wouldn't have to hunt, where we wouldn't have to overturn the ordinance."

Westport has long had a no-hunting ordinance in place. Several neighboring towns, however, have chosen to suspend or modify their hunting laws for limited times in order to allow hunting to reduce deer population.

"The goal is to manage deer safely and as in effective a way as possible," Steve Patton, director of Devil's Den, said of the annual controlled hunting season at the nature preserve.

The deer-hunting season at the preserve this year is designated on several days each week from mid-November until Dec. 4 -- 11 days in all.

During that time, about a dozen select hunters with rifles are assigned -- at different times -- specific spots where they can spend a full day hunting.

"They generally sit at stations and don't move," said Patton, "and where they're working they have targets that are safe, so they're not shooting into people's homes and the like. They're shooting into hillsides."

"It's certainly one of these things we have to do because the natural predators of deer ... are no longer with us," he said. "Those would be timber wolves and mountain lions ... As a result, our deer populations throughout Connecticut, especially in southwestern Connecticut, have grown."

He said decision to allow the hunt in Weston came 10 years ago because, "The deer numbers were way out of whack with the forest ecology. We were losing a lot of our herbs, plants that are the ground flora, and we made a decision to conduct our first hunt."

But Pike said hunting is not a proven method of decreasing the deer population over the long term because surviving animals will often reproduce in greater numbers.

The committee says, however, that the first step for Westport in making a determination on how to control the local herds to get an accurate count of the number of deer in town, as well as a clear idea of where they are concentrated.

The committee plans to ask the Board of Finance in December for $6,000 to hire an Idaho-based company to do an infrared aerial survey.

"One thing we haven't had is an accurate number," Pike said of the deer numbers. "This is probably the most high-tech equipment and photo-imaging that's out there."

"We've done a tremendous amount of reading and studying of the literature out there," she said, noting that her committee has met almost every week for nearly a year.

Along with creating plans to control Westport's deer population, the committee has also done extensive research on Lyme disease -- which many believe is linked deer ticks -- and which will be included in the report.