Deer Task Force looks to state, federal officials for support
Before adopting a plan to drastically reduce or completely eradicate deer on Block Island, members of the Deer Task Force (DTF) agreed this week that they need to gain the support of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM).
Acknowledging that to date hunting has not trimmed the herd adequately, the DTF hopes to adopt a managed hunt plan, possibly teaming with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to utilize methods not allowed under current DEM regulations. The USDA recently conducted a managed hunt for Rhode Island Airport Corporation at the Block Island Airport.
Task force member George Mellor spoke with Timothy Corzine from the USDA recently. He reported that Corzine told him the USDA is allowed to use a full suite of tactics to extirpate deer, including suppressed rifles at night, baiting and artificial light.
(“Extirpation” is the term used by the USDA for their managed hunts; it means eradication in a local area.)
To that end, the task force members agreed they need to meet with DEM officials and regional USDA officials. They would also like someone from the Town Council to participate. The group unanimously passed a resolution asking the council to attend such a meeting, with the goal being to ask DEM to exempt Block Island from state hunting regulations for the purpose of extirpation of the deer herd.
Reporting on the first two weeks of the expanded hunt areas, task force member and island policeman Paul Deane said he was aware of 10 deer taken at Rodman’s Hollow and only two at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife preserve. This, he said, might be due to the inclement weather, as one hunter told him that the six hunters chosen per week to hunt at Rodman’s Hollow were not seen there and it is believed that only a few of them actually hunted the tract. As a hunter, Deane also remarked that carrying a 100-pound deer out of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife area makes that area less desirable.
A big factor in the decreasing numbers of outside hunters coming to the island, Deane speculated, was that in the past deer take was limited on the mainland but not on the island. But now the number of deer allowed to be taken on the mainland thas been increased. “It is too expensive to hunt here from the mainland,” Deane said, citing the need to pay for the ferry, a place to stay and food, as well as possibly take days off from work, because hunting is not allowed on weekends on Block Island.
The DEM, Deane said, took “a great first step” towards enforcement of the hunt. “They make an effort to be here as they said,” he told the task force, adding that either he or another officer checked the hunting areas every morning. The DEM officers left their cars here, he reported, and took their own boat over for the day, but the bad weather, again, limited travel.
Mulling over whether the DTF could successfully convince the DEM to exempt Block Island from its hunting regulations, Deane suggested the DTF’s three years of effort to expand hunting on Block Island might hold some weight with them.
Vice Chair Becky Ballard said the task force needed another aerial deer count, and Deane urged the group to ask First Warden Kim Gaffett to speak with DEM about doing one this year. Last year, he recalled, there was too little snow cover to accomplish one, but an attempt this year might prove fruitful.