Deer culling project delayedTown may be on the hook for $12-14k
Just four days before a program to reduce Block Island’s deer was supposed to begin, it was delayed for a year.
First Warden Kim Gaffett made this announcement at a Town Council meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 19. She said she was approached by White Buffalo, the company contracted to cull the deer, which asked the project scheduled for Monday, Feb. 24, be postponed. According to Gaffett, White Buffalo President Anthony Denicola has “grave reservations” about the deer culling.
The Town Council agenda did not allow for a formal vote, but councilors agreed in concept to delay the project and will take formal action at a meeting Friday, Feb. 21, at 12:30 p.m.
“[Denicola] amounted to grave reservations about the effectiveness of the cull,” Gaffett said. “He was concerned he wouldn’t get enough deer, and suggested that we perhaps reschedule the cull for another time. In the long term we can correct things that could be done better.”
When approached later by The Block Island Times, Denicola said he was concerned about the announcement made last week that White Buffalo would not be allowed to use suppressors on its weapons. A suppressor is a device attached to a firearm that reduces the noise produced by the firearm, and it is illegal in Rhode Island. While the Department of Environmental Management (DEM) initially thought White Buffalo would be exempt from this law, this was not the case.
“The biggest issue was the more recent decision that we would not be able to use suppressed firearms. That initiated the discussions on postponing the hunt,” Denicola said. “That was an unpleasant surprise. I was under the impression there was an ability to exempt us, but it was told to us a week and a half ago that we wouldn’t be exempt.”
Denicola said the lack of suppressors would “spook” the deer. He also felt that the regular hunting season, which is ongoing, would make the deer more skittish. In addition, Denicola thought the bait placed in various spots around the island had not attracted enough deer, particularly because the locations were covered in snow.
“It’s a shame to lose the momentum, but we might have lost a lot more momentum if we only took 30 deer,” said Town Manager Nancy Dodge. “This will also give him [Denicola] the opportunity to talk to local hunters and do some training of local hunters for next year’s hunt.”
Dodge also said some money had already been spent for White Buffalo to come to the island and begin the baiting process.
This prompted former Town Councilor Sean McGarry to ask, “Who’s paying for this?”
“That’s a good question,” responded Gaffett.
Town Manager Nancy Dodge said it would be the town’s responsibility. While there were donated funds for the project, the funds were specifically raised for the deer culling, not its postponement.
“We’d [the town would] be on the hook for the actual expenses,” said Dodge. “Expenses would probably be $12,000 to $14,000, but we’ll be working to bring that amount down. That’s astonishing to all of us, but weigh that against $100,000 or $120,000.”
The first year of the deer culling project was estimated to cost $128,300, and it was to be paid for by private donations through island organizations such as the Block Island Residents Association and the Deer Task Force.
“I have gone to people to ask for donations for the cull,” explained Ruth Perfido, Deer Task Force chair. She was unsure if those people would want their donations to pay for the project’s postponement, instead of the project itself.
“Since part of reason for the cancellation is the lack of suppressors, shouldn’t the DEM contribute to these costs?” asked island resident Doug Michel.
Gaffett said the DEM has been asked to contribute. “That issue has been raised with the DEM and sent up to the level of the director. She was unavailable this week, but that is unlikely,” Gaffett said.
Catherine Sparks, DEM assistant director for natural resources, told The Block Island Times that it “was never in the plan” for the DEM to pay for any part of the project.
Sparks also commented on the delay of the project. “Sometimes you’re disappointed with the way things play out, but the DEM and the community have agreed to take a step back for now,” she said, adding that there will be meetings scheduled to address the project’s future. “The commitment to this project is very real.”
In December, the Town Council had approved a plan proposed by the DEM that was designed to reduce the island’s deer population by about 200. This plan included a non-recreational “deer culling” with White Buffalo, a professional sharpshooting company.
Denicola told The Block Island Times he still plans to move forward with the project.
“My understanding is clearly we’re still trying to move forward,” he said. “We’re going to need to get a law change to exempt us from suppressors, and work around the hunting seasons. Those are the two primary factors that need to be addressed.”
Ruth Perfido added, “I’m disappointed that it isn’t happening this month, but I do support the decision to reschedule it based on the facts. I’ve heard that White Buffalo will be willing to use or explore using local hunters next year, and so I think that’s a plus.”
Also at the Wednesday, Feb. 19, meeting, the council:
-Transferred two liquor licenses from Michael Finnemore to Marc Scortino for the Harborside Inn and for Mohegan Café, both located on Water Street.
“I’m taking over proprietorship of Mohegan and Harborside,” explained Scortino. He currently owns and operates Captain Nick’s bar on Ocean Avenue.
-Revised the Recreation Board’s charge. The board’s responsibilities include making financial, facility and program recommendations.
-Approved three potential properties, all near West Side Road nearby Legion Park, where island resident Cindy Kelly could operate her food cart. Kelly can select only one of these properties as her final location.
-Received a PowerPoint presentation from Councilor Chris Warfel, who argued the town should participate in a specific renewable energy grant program. The council agreed to investigate the opportunity of several energy grants.
-Set a public hearing date of March 19 to amend town ordinances to change penalties for sign violations.
The council adjourned its meeting in closed session to discuss the progress of Town Manager Nancy Dodge in meeting goals set by the council.