Westport deer controls may change to address 'problem'
Westport's deer-control policy could be set for changes after three Representative Town Meeting committees agreed Wednesday night to endorse a new public education campaign and the creation of a new citizens' panel to address the issue.
However, members of the Public Protection, Health and Human Services and Environment committees did not recommend a specific plan for the education initiative. They said the new deer-control board or commission would likely comprise an appointed group of volunteers. The proposals are not binding and would require the backing of the full RTM to be implemented. The legislative body will likely review the committees' plans in August or September.
The proposals emerge after nine months of hearings and study of the town's existing deer-management plan, which the committees launched in response to a citizens' petition last year that called on town officials to draft a new plan to control the size of the local deer herd.
"I'm pleased with the how the RTM has handled this. I think we've done it justice," said Environment Committee member Michael Rea, District 8. "There's been a lot of debate, but there's been time for people's views to percolate. I'm hopeful we'll have a good outcome."
In a straw vote, members of the three committees decided by a 9-5 margin that control of the town's deer population constituted a "problem" that needs to be addressed. But those RTM members also voted 13-1 in another poll to uphold the town's no-hunting ordinance, which has been in effect since 1971.
A special act, passed by the state General Assembly in 1933, grants the town authority to regulate hunting within its borders. No other municipality in Connecticut has this power.
There was none of the angry debate among the few members of the public at Wednesday's meeting that had erupted at earlier meetings on the issue.
Differing views among RTM members were also aired without acrimony. Public Protection Committee Chairman Dick Lowenstein, District 5, cast the lone dissenting vote against support of the town's no-hunting ordinance. But he told the Westport News after the meeting that he still backed the committees' recommendations.
"For me, the important thing is that we acknowledged that there is a deer problem," he said. "Progress was made tonight."