The Block Island Times

Maine island eliminated deer and with them, Lyme Disease

By Judy Tierney | Mar 27, 2012

Just back from an exploratory trip to Monhegan Island in Maine, First Warden Kim Gaffett told the Deer Task Force at its Tuesday, March 20, meeting that, as had been previously reported to the group but then contradicted by an island resident, the island really has eradicated its deer herd and has had no documented cases of Lyme Disease since.

Gaffett spoke with the town’s assessor, their equivalent to our first warden, and another person involved in the effort, both of whom reported that the tiny island, which measures one mile by half a mile, had had 125 deer and rising Lyme Disease cases. Though one of Gaffett’s informants told her she didn’t like doing it, she had supported the eradication of the herd in part because the deer were inbred and also because she felt uncomfortable inviting tourists to the island with the risk of Lyme Disease rising.

Monhegan hired Anthony DiNicola of White Buffalo, Inc., for the hunt. The deer were first lured by baiting, putting out food for the deer in selected spots. Over a period of time, they became trained to seek the bait, and often went in groups of five. The hunters used silencers so as not to frighten the deer, and shot them in those groups. The state helped with funding the initiative, and also sent a biologist to work with them.

Several factors made that kind of hunt easier there than it would be on Block Island, Gaffett said. Monhegan is small, is forested with conifers rather than deciduous trees and lacks an understory of brush.

A discussion of baiting as a possibility on Block Island ensued. Rhode Island hunting laws forbid baiting, as they do using silencers on guns. But Gaffett suggested the task force could in the future ask for an exploratory hunt with baiting, perhaps for two weeks of the hunting season on town property, if the proposed expanded hunt in next winter’s hunting season goes well.

Gaffett mentioned a change to the state rules on Block Island hunting for next year. Pop-up blinds used by archers will be prohibited as they are seen as dangerous. Whereas from tree blinds, arrows point downward when released, from the pop-ups, the trajectory is parallel with the ground and the arrows can travel some distance, possibly endangering unintended targets.

Task Force Chair Mary Sue Record is hoping the number of deer taken will greatly increase when the additional hunting lands are opened, but that would also mean a possible surfeit of deer meat and the disposal of more carcasses. She offered to call food banks to query whether they would accept butchered venison. Ruth Perfido suggested going to foundations to request money for the butchering and disposal. Hunter and task force member Paul Deane added that money could be used to launch an educational effort as well.

According to official DEM figures, 171 deer were taken in this season’s hunt. The number is somewhat less than last year’s, 193. However, hunters on the task force had warned that lower numbers might be reported this year because of changes in the reporting method: This year the state eliminated local check stations, and asked only that a postcard be mailed to the DEM. With a voluntary system, the hunters thought, there would not be 100 percent compliance.

Deane quipped that they had asked for a simpler system and the state gave it to them. In light of that, he estimated the drop in the count was not significant. The DEM could be asked to reinstate a local check station, he said, however, he was unsure that would be a good idea. Record asked him to discuss it with Chris Blane, the other hunter serving on the task force.

At their next meeting, the task force will be discussing whether or not to add prevention of environmental damage to the purpose of the group. It was formed under a charge from Town Council to work toward a reduction of Lyme Disease on Block Island. Record reported that other places have tried to reduce their deer herds to reduce the amount of environmental damage they cause. The deer forage on native plants, leaving some introduced species to flourish.

Comments (1)
Posted by: Sam Wells | Mar 27, 2012 16:58

If the island really wants to get rid of the deer, it needs the political will to do just that.  What you need is a special permit from the wildlife agency, and some incentives for hunters or a contractor to do the job.  I realize that committees will work as they do, all fine work, but getting rid of the deer is much different than they way you are going about it. It's quite expensive if you want meat for charity, humane deer removal methods, relocation, or whatever method you prefer.  I don't think that an annual harvest of 100-200 a year will cut the numbers and I think that's pretty factual.  Instead one needs to cull out all the does, the females.  Too often the hunters will take out the nice big healthy deer, a lot of males.  Once the majority of the population has been eliminated, it's simply a mop-up exercise.  How about hunting them by helicopter?  See?  You're not all that serious about eliminating the deer!

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