DTF moves toward agreement with local hunters
The Deer Task Force stopped just short of a vote to grant full responsibility for deer herd reduction to local hunters. In the process of planning for the 2014-2015 hunting season, President Ruth Perfido noted the sole purpose of the meeting was the “development of a possible reimbursement program for qualified Block Island hunters and [the] development of a professional cull.”
Noting that safety was the primary concern for the task force and the public, Perfido said, “This is really a brainstorming session,” a way to create a program for qualified local hunters.
As noted by Vice President Becky Ballard, a recent bill passed in the state legislature allows “any town in Rhode Island to come up with its own management plan [for deer reduction], subject to the DEM’s approval.”
Task force members discussed the option with Chris Blansfield, who represented island hunters at the meeting on June 23.
He and Paul Deane, himself a hunter and member of the DTF, discussed the list of suggested criteria — drawn up by Blansfield and local hunter Chris Blane (who was not present) — to determine the eligibility of hunters.
The criteria were as follows: 1) Each individual must be an island resident who has held a valid Rhode Island hunting license for at least five years; 2) Each must have three references from local hunters; 3) Each must have purchased tags within the last three years; 4) Each must have obtained hunting permissions [from landowners] on 30 or more acres and 5) Each must agree to the use of a voluntary check station located at the New Shoreham police station.
As they scrutinized the proposed eligibility list, Perfido pointed to the first item and asked Blansfield, “What are the criteria for ‘island resident’?” Blansfield thought it referred to “anyone whose primary address is on island for approximately nine months a year.”
DTF member Lisa Sprague said that someone should be eligible “if for the last five years your hunting license [shows] an island address.” Deane offered the alternative of holding a driver’s license for the island for the last five years.
The members discussed offering a $150 incentive for each deer taken to encourage more hunters, but underscoring the importance of establishing residency, Ballard said, “With this carrot of $150, many [non-resident] hunters may be drawn to the island; we need to be sure they’re islanders.” Ballard indicated that the task force had received one donation of approximately $100,000.
Referring to items one, three and four (hunting tags, local references and landowner permission), Clerk Bonny Ryan asked, “Who’s doing the checking?” With everyone realizing there was currently no one to do so, Perfido said, “The town will have to find someone to do it.” Concurring, Blansfield said the individual should not be a hunter, rather “a kind of clerk of the works, responsible for checking.”
Referring to item four, Blansfield felt it was important for local hunters to have a number of permission slips for properties of 30 acres or more. He said there was a greater chance of taking more deer on larger properties.
The group discussed how many permission slips were adequate, and Blansfield thought between 10 and 15. He said, “If people have 10 or more permission slips, they have generally earned the trust of the owners.” He added, “Some kind of screening criteria is important.”
Perfido objected to item number two as too subjective: “Having hunters approve of other hunters is subjective.” She urged a more objective standard, which was not proposed at the meeting. Ballard said, “The bottom line is we all want this to work. First we have to go to the Town Council [with whatever proposal emerges] and then to the public. We all know we’re heading in the right direction.”
Discussion also focused on the number of years required to hold a valid license, the minimum age of those eligible for a hunting license, and the minimum age to be allowed for eligibility in the local hunters program.
Deane thought five years with a valid license indicated an individual had hunted safely, said the minimum age for getting a hunting license currently is 16, and the group agreed that 21 should be the minimum age for eligibility for the intended program.
In terms of how payments should be made, member Bill McKernan proposed starting payment when the hunter had killed five deer; if the hunter takes 10 deer, the hunter would be paid retroactively for the first five. He felt the program should run throughout the entire hunting season, noting it could be stopped at any time.
With considerable back and forth on many issues related to the eligibility list, the group seemed to settle into an understanding that giving local hunters an exclusive opportunity to reduce the herd was the way to go. Perfido said, “It seems [the 2014-2015 season] will be entirely done by local hunters, and then we’ll wait for the first year’s [results]” before calling in the professional hunters. They left a vote on the issue to the next meeting.
Acknowledging the exchange had been productive and amiable, Perfido said to Blansfield, “I can’t tell you, Chris, how important this was to have you here.”
The next meeting is scheduled for July 9.