The Block Island Times
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Deer Fatigue

By Martha Ball | Mar 02, 2014

While I say somewhat in jest that I cannot lose any more brains cells to any/all things deer it still surprises me that the word does induce a reflexive blackout. I was surprised this year to read of the second annual hunt in Rodman’s Hollow. Surely, I had read about the first one last year but put it so far back in my memory bank that it disappeared in the way we wish so many bad thoughts would.

I heard rumblings about the proposed cull, and paid more attention to reactions to meetings than to content. Finally, I did attend the last session at the school and wondered how, even paying as little mind as I had been, something so large could have gotten so far without my realizing it was happening.

There is such a thing as deer fatigue and I know I experienced it years ago, when I was First Warden and received a draft of the revised Comprehensive Plan including a section on the necessity of dealing with the threat of Lyme disease. I sent it back, one of my rare unilateral decisions, refusing to consider it without inclusion of concern for the mental health issues that have long plagued this community.

I had been to a Senate Corporations Committee hearing in March of 2002, back when we still harbored the notion the state might someday cede control of the deer herd that had long been “ours” in every way but the one that mattered.

To say the “big guns” came out would be an understatement. The reporter who covered the hearing for this paper wrote “Block Island’s efforts to independently regulate its deer population ran into the gun lobby Thursday, March 14, at the State house. The gun lobby won… ”

It was all in the guise of maintaining state control, and for someone not having listened for years to the DEM whose laundry list of “until you allow… ” included, among other things, weekend hunting, it might have sounded reasonable.

The DEM, that March, was buttressed by a former gun show owner from East Providence who complained his shop had never sold a deer tag for Block Island. It made no sense, how could he be protesting a change that could negatively impact sales that had never happened from a business he no longer owned?

Then stepped up a lobbyist for the Rhode Island State Rifle and Revolver Association, an affiliate of the NRA, and a lobbyist for Gun Owners PAC, both speaking in opposition to the “Pandora’s box” that would be opened if one town were allowed special authority.

I think of that when I hear talk of regionalization, a solid, sensible plan in many places, but never with any consideration that sometimes it just doesn’t work, that a place like Block Island does need its own fire trucks and public works department.
My own personal favorite was another gentleman from East Providence, the Senator who moved to put the legislation on hold before the Town’s First Warden or duly elected State Senator could speak.  He had not so long previously insisted he be allowed to carry a concealed weapon at the State House.

We picked our battles, that was one we were not going to win. Lest anyone want to write this off to the conventional wisdom that we are unable to get anything done at the State House, among the bills that went into law that year, that won backing that very day, was the unattainable tax on seasonal rentals. Yet we could not have even a conversation about the deer.

Given that history — and knowledge of how things do not change in Rhode Island — I was surprised, my own ignorance of current events notwithstanding, to hear the proposed cull was scheduled to begin in the new year, with the assistance of the DEM no less.

Circumventing the laws, prohibiting baiting and jack-lighting under some emergency provisions seemed a slippery slope but if the Deer Task Force and DEM could pull if off bless them, the amount of time, effort, energy and money expended by the community on deer for decades could be put to such better use. Maybe it would work, maybe not but we would never know from talk and computer models.

It seemed a good time to be reminded been-there-done-that can be a huge impediment, that it takes fresh perspectives not tainted by past failures to effect a change. I was not convinced this was workable but like so many people I am tired of the fighting, and anything that might give us real information that might direct us out of the decades old mire would be worth it.

The announcement the cull was off came as no surprise; I had never put aside my hard learned cynicism. There is about a claim that the project was sabotaged by over-hunting of the area designated which prompts the query “Why would anyone have been hunting there at all?” That sounds like a conspiracy theory (a phrase I equate with nonsense) until I realize no one asked about hunting on my land, and I seem to be seeing as many if not more deer on the Neck.

When I stumbled upon a mid-January PolitiFact check about a radio gun commentator’s assertion that the procedure as proposed was illegal, it did not surprise me. Within the document being checked was a complaint about hiring outside shooters “instead of running this extermination program as a controlled, lottery-based hunt… ”  a slip that sounds less an indictment of the objective and more of the same old I-might-not-be-able-to-hunt protest.

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