Deer culling to begin Feb. 24Snare traps found at Boy Scout Camp
The deer culling on Block Island is slated to begin on Monday, Feb. 24. Baiting of the deer is currently underway, and town officials and the Department of Environmental Management (DEM) are working to make sure everything is going as planned, and to straighten out some kinks.
At a Deer Task Force meeting on Monday, Feb. 10, First Warden Kim Gaffett mentioned some logistical issues between property owners, local hunters and White Buffalo, which is the company hired by the DEM to conduct the deer culling. DEM Assistant Director of Natural Resources Catherine Sparks later echoed some of these logistical issues in a conversation with The Block Island Times.
“The baiting started a day or two before the police chief was aware of it,” explained Sparks. “And I, too, got calls from the community with concerns.” The Block Island Times visited a parcel of land on Center Road that had been baited with small piles of corn meal, which was surrounded by at least one home with year-round residents.
“There was one property owner who personally called me, and then we worked through the concerns,” said Sparks. “I told White Buffalo, the contractor, that this neighbor was very concerned with the location of the baiting. [White Buffalo] agreed to drop it. There’s not a feeling the area was unsafe, but it was a courtesy to the property owner.”
Sparks said that baiting areas were chosen based on safety concerns and the likelihood that deer will be attracted to the location. For example, areas where the hunters can shoot down towards the ground (i.e. a hill with land below it) are prime areas for the culling project.
Sparks said that some areas that were selected as baiting locations have now been amended and revised.
To rectify the community’s concerns, Sparks said the DEM is amending its process to provide more detailed updates to the town.
“I’ve asked DEM biologist Brian Tefft to make sure he has a daily call with Chief [Vincent] Carlone and Town Manager Nancy Dodge — even if we don’t have anything different to say, just to have a conversation,” said Sparks. She added she has been in personal contact with property owners in the deer culling area.
"We’re working hard on this project," said Sparks. "Not just the DEM, but the community is working really hard on this. This is the first time for this project and it hasn’t been as seamless as I hoped. But I'm personally really heartened by the efforts of the community.”
In addition, a few property owners had given local hunters permission to hunt on their property while baiting was taking place on the property.
“There should be no hunting where baiting is underway,” Gaffett said. Town Manager Nancy Dodge, who was present at the Deer Task Force meeting on Feb. 10, said, “The bottom line is, if an area is baited, it’s illegal to hunt there. There were some communication issues that are being resolved.”
On another note, there have been other concerns about snare traps found around the island. Police Chief Vincent Carlone said the traps were found two weeks ago in a wooded area of the Boy Scout Camp at the end of Connecticut Ave. Carlone said there are currently no suspects. He also said it is unclear when the traps were placed.
"We found some snare traps, and remains of dead deer that appear to be from hunting, not the traps," said Carlone. "It gives the appearance of illegal poaching of deer. It has been documented and communicated to the DEM... It’s an issue of grave concern and it’s a terrible thing to do to the deer."
Suppressors not allowed
Sparks also told the Block Island Times that White Buffalo will not be allowed to use suppressors as part of the deer culling project. A suppressor is a device attached to a firearm that reduces the noise produced by the firearm.
Rhode Island state law prohibits the use of suppression, and DEM had been working with the Rhode Island Attorney General on exempting the deer culling project from that law. However, Sparks told The Block Island Times on Wednesday that the deer culling will not be exempt.
Sparks said there has been an "ongoing legal process" to determine whether or not suppressors could be allowed in the deer culling project.
"The DEM wasn't looking to bend the rules," said Sparks in reference to using the silencers. "But as part of our due diligence, the DEM legal team met with the Attorney General and had a very positive discussion with him. But the DEM is not going to be allowed to use suppressors."
Town Councilor Norris Pike commented about the lack of suppressors, "It may affect the efficiency of the project... That's too bad."
In December, the New Shoreham Town Council approved a plan designed to reduce the island’s deer population by about 200, according to the DEM. This plan will include a non-recreational hunt with White Buffalo, a professional sharpshooting company.
Culling will generally occur between 4 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. starting on Feb. 24. Sparks said that property owners will be notified as the culling progresses, and New Shoreham police will be stationed nearby on the hunt to observe the process. Police will not participate in the hunt itself.
At Monday’s Deer Task Force meeting, Vice Chair Becky Ballard, who chaired the meeting, mentioned her correspondence with Windham Butchers, who will be coming to Block Island from Maine to handle the meat. They are expected to set up their meat-processing operation in the Town Hall parking lot, added Kim Gaffett at a Town Council meeting on Wednesday.
“I called [Windham Butcher’s owner] Dana Mains and talked to him. This will be the first time he’s distributed meat locally,” Ballard said. According to Ballard, Mains is accustomed to packaging meat in 10-pound frozen portions for larger-scale distribution, but he is willing to accommodate the needs of Block Island. Any surplus will be donated to Rhode Island food banks.
Ten-pound packages will be available, but it will also be possible to order fresh meat or whole carcasses. There will be an effort to supply one-pound packages. DTF member Paul Deane said it would be more reasonable to offer one-pound packages because “people can’t use 10 pounds at once.” Deane also passed on a message from a friend of his, who has never hunted on Block Island before this season. “He said the deer is unbelievable out here. They have a good diet and the muscle is not nearly as lean as it is on the mainland,” Deane said.
DTF member Lisa Sprague said she will “try to change the packages to smaller portions.” Sprague has been appointed by the Task Force to be the point person for communication with the public. There will be information in The Block Island Times in print and online regarding meat distribution. Recipes for venison will also appear in the Times in the coming weeks., as will forms for donations. According to Ballard, the DTF is “trying to raise enough money for the first three years so we don’t have to do [the fund-raising] every year.”
For discussion’s sake, DTF member George Mellor predicted costs of the Deer Culling Plan to increase every year as the goals become loftier. Mellor also expressed the desire that the local hunters should be paid to be part of the effort as well. “We’re going to address those things during our planning for next year,” Ballard said.