DEM implements “emergency regulations” to reduce deer herdDTF looks to private funding to cover costs
Declaring that the deer population on Block Island “presents an imminent risk to the health, safety and welfare of Block Island’s natural resources,” the state Department of Environmental Management (DEM) has filed “emergency regulations establishing a non-recreational deer reduction program” that the DEM hopes will reduce the island’s deer population by as much as 80 to 90 percent.
The emergency regulations will “allow the DEM to conduct a bait and shoot culling operation” and go into effect immediately.
First Warden Kim Gaffett said the announcement is the first step in a process that will eventually involve a meeting with representatives from the DEM, the Deer Task Force (DTF), the Town Council and the public. She also said the announcement was the result of a long period of cooperation with the town and DEM.
“We still have to have a full discussion as to what the plan is, how it is implemented, who will do it and the where the money is coming from,” said Gaffett. “All of that will help us decide.”
Gaffett said a public meeting will be scheduled sometime between Nov. 25 and Dec. 7.
According to the release, the town of New Shoreham will be asked to reimburse the costs for the program, but DTF Chair Ruth Perfido, as well as member Becky Ballard, said that the DTF has already begun looking into private funding to offset the costs of the culling. “The burden will not be on the town,” said Perfido.
“The Department [of Environmental Management] anticipates that the Town of New Shoreham will reimburse the Department for the costs incurred due to accomplishing the project as well as any direct expenses that the Department may incur as a result of the conducting of the project,” according to the release.
Perfido and Ballard said that they didn’t expect the overall project to last more than five years. But because specifics about the plan have not yet been released, they did not want to speculate as to the overall cost. They did say that any funds, however they are raised, will go toward reimbursing the DEM as opposed to raising them up front to cover the cost of the hunts.
Of the overall plan, Perfido said she was “encouraged and appreciative that the DEM has made a positive act to address the deer issue on the island.” She said the next step is for DEM representatives to come to the island to provide details of who will come to the island to conduct the culling hunt.
The DEM stated that it intends to accomplish the “project by contracting with a private vendor(s) who will serve as the Department’s agent to cull the excess deer as directed employing certain sanctioned, non-recreational hunting methods, some of which recreational hunters are prohibited from using. For example, these specially trained agents of the Director [of the Department of Environmental Management, Janet Coit] will be authorized to take deer at night at designated baited sites using sharpshooter rifles. However, no taking of deer will be conducted on any privately owned land without written permission. The deer carcasses will be prepared for eventual human consumption.”
The DEM stated that “the action plan for a multi-year deer reduction program… will likely begin in early 2014.” Ballard and Perfido said that next year’s hunt will be a “pilot program” and will help determine how long the project will take.
The press release issued by the DEM emphasized the impact on the island’s natural environment over the effects it will have on reducing the incidents of Lyme disease, the latter of which has been more of a concern to island residents.
“The DEM has determined that implementation of a non-recreational deer reduction program is required in order to protect the fragile habitats and unique natural communities found on Block Island,” the announcement read.
The announcement does not mention Lyme disease directly, and in fact addresses the protection of an island plant (the northern blazing star) before mentioning any connection between tick-borne diseases and the island’s human population. The announcement mentions, among other things, that the “overabundance of deer on Block Island is also having long-term impacts on the Island’s ecology” and cites “fragile habitats including globally-imperiled morainal grassland, that are at risk from the overabundance of deer.”
Dr. Michael Fine, Director of the state Department of Health, is quoted in the release as saying “There is some evidence that deer reduction will decrease the burden of tick-borne diseases. However, we don’t expect to see that reduction until the deer population has been reduced by 80 to 90 percent. It is important for people to continue with personal protection measures to prevent tick bites.”
Ballard, of the DTF, said that the focus on protecting natural resources on the island allows the plan to go into effect immediately.
“That’s why it’s an emergency regulation, because it is a means of initiating the culling,” said Ballard. “The Lyme and tick-related issues are a concern, but this is the way to get it done.”
Perfido added that no matter what the reasoning is behind the non-recreational hunt, the “result will be the same” in terms of reducing Lyme disease.
The published regulations of the deer reduction program state that the purpose is to “reduce the overpopulation of Virginia white-tailed deer (Odocoileus viginianus) on Block Island where traditional management methods have been unsuccessful…”
The goal of the “project is not intended to eradicate the population of deer within the isolated area that is the subject of the project. Rather the project seeks to reduce the deer population within the subject area to a density that is compatible with the health of the natural resources on Block Island.”
That density, according to the DEM, has been estimated at 80 to 100 deer per square mile. Block Island is 9.75 square miles in size. The healthy deer herd density is 10 to 15 deer per square mile is the goal, according to DEM Biologist Brian Tefft.