Science doesn't support allowing deer hunting in Westport
As a Westport resident for 57 years, and a practicing pediatrician in town for almost 50 years, I am always concerned about the well being and the safety of the children and their parents in the community.
I am concerned at the present time because, as I understand it, the deer control issue that is under discussion and to potentially be presented to the RTM began because of a petition submitted by a member of the Fairfield County Deer Management Alliance. The composition of the membership of this organization, and wording included in the petition would indicate a desire to overturn the hunting ban that now exists in Westport. The potential dangers that this would create to the children, the adults, their pets and many forms of wildlife are numerous. I have been informed that hunting, even if limited to the use of bows and arrows, would permit even an individual 12 years of age who obtains a hunting license to kill deer on any parcel of land regardless of its size if he or she has obtained the property owner's permission. Just imagine what might happen with the slightest degree of inaccuracy on the part of the hunter on that or adjacent properties, particularly if the properties are of small size.
Our children playing, adults working or their pets accompanying them in their yards, fields or wooded areas could be subjected to injury or worse. Misidentified wildlife would be subjected to the same dangers. A deer that is not killed by a hunter could receive a serious injury without hope of repair. And, as has happened, could roam suffering and die a painful death far from the site of the shooting. This could also happen to other wildlife that have been mistakenly shot.
I don't believe that any of us would want these events to occur. If the deer population must be reduced, other methods such as birth control should be considered.
One of the reasons proposed for reducing the deer herd is Lyme disease. Connecticut has always had a high incidence of Lyme disease. We must remember that it was first identified here in Connecticut by Dr. Allen Steere when he was at the Yale University School of Medicine. However, there is no increase of Lyme disease in Connecticut at this time.
This has been confirmed by Dr. Robert Baltimore, professor of pediatrics and head of the Section on Infectious Disease and Epidemiology at the Yale University School of Medicine. He is an expert in this field whom I consulted on the issue. He also confirms the fact, as have many others, that reducing the number of deer has never decreased the incidence of Lyme disease. He stated that there are a number of other epidemiologists at Yale who can also confirm these facts.
If more information is needed on this issue, I respectfully suggest the Town committees that are evaluating the issues consult with such experts who are currently active in disease control. We must not rely on information that was collected and analyzed years ago by those with marginal qualifications. There are many other carriers of the tick that transmits the spirochete Borrella Bergdorferi to the human, such as the field mouse and other animals. They will continue to do so even with a decrease in the number of deer in the community.
Statistics from the Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH) confirm that the residents of Westport have been successful in taking steps necessary to reduce the incidence of the disease in the community without resorting to the ineffectual attempt to reduce the deer herd. With some fluctuation, the number of cases annually in Westport has continued to decrease from 1999 through 2009. In 1999, there were 103 and, in 2009, 25 cases of Lyme disease were reported to the DPH. Compared with other surrounding communities, only Norwalk -- with a large urban population -- has a lower disease rate based on a 100,000 population.
I do not feel that the hunting ban in Westport should be rescinded. To allow hunting in our community will be ineffectual in controlling Lyme disease and potentially detrimental to us all.