Editorial: It’s frustrating, yes, but progress is being made
It is understandable that a good portion of the audience that came to listen to representatives of the Department of Environmental Management on the deer situation would be frustrated by what they did — or didn’t — hear. This conversation has been ongoing for years, literally, and so the expectation that the details of an approved plan to reduce the deer population (and therefore the incidents of tick-borne diseases) would be forthcoming was palpable.
But let’s give credit where credit is due. Deer Task Force Chair Ruth Perfido, her comrade-in-arms Becky Ballard, and all the members of the DTF have pushed the DEM to engage in very serious, quite substantial talks since the spring. Because of that, Catherine Sparks, the Assistant Director for Natural Resources, was able to tell the residents of Block Island that some plan will be implemented by the end of this year. It’s clear the DEM is listening. Excellent work all around.
But in order for this plan to be carried out in an orderly fashion, certain things still need to be done.
One, based on a suggestion offered at the Block Island Residents Association annual meeting on Aug. 17, at which the DEM made its presentation, the DEM needs an official co-representative from the Rhode Island Department of Health (DOH) who will regularly attend meetings.
There’s no reason for Sparks to return to the mainland and have to set up a meeting with the DOH to relay what our concerns are. The presence of the deer — and some estimates say there are as many as 100 deer for each square mile on the island — is not simply a nuisance. It’s a very, very serious health issue and that’s why the DOH needs to be directly involved. (There have been twice as many cases of tick-related illnesses this year over last.)
Two, we hope that all islanders keep up to date with what is happening so that when it comes time for the Town Council to vote on the issue, an informed debate can take place. Our councilors will need to hear from all sides to help guide them as they decide what to do.
Three, which is also based on a suggestion made at the BIRA meeting, Sparks and a member of the DOH absolutely need to return to Block Island before Nov. 1 to provide a full update — and, by that time — more details of what they plan to do.