Task Force highlights need for deer check station
The Deer Task Force has been working toward its goal of eliminating or drastically reducing the Block Island deer herd, and it will continue to do so in 2013, as explained in its 2012 report to be sent to the Town Council.
At a Monday, Dec. 17 meeting, the task force went page-by-page through a draft of the report and expanded upon various points.
The report explains actions that have been taken this year and in the past, for example: encouraging private landowners to open their land for hunting, improving information available on the town website and establishing relationships with government environmental agencies.
Also listed are recommendations to the council for 2013. One of these, which the task force plans to bring forward to the council as a separate proposal, asks to establish a deer checking station for the 2013-2014 hunting season.
Task Force member and hunter Chris Blane said that, "We're never going to have accurate information if we don't have a check station."
The state Department of Environmental Management used to sponsor a B.I. station, but now instead have gone to an “honor system” asking hunters to send in postcards about the deer taken. Many cards are not sent in, resulting in inaccurate information.
Task force member Ruth Perfido asked about costs of running the check station and who would man it. Others had similar questions. Blane suggested that deciding this information would ultimately be up to the Town Council.
Task Force member and Police Officer Paul Deane said that in the past, police officers on duty would stop at the station when needed.
Blane suggested that the town could simultaneously establish a "game warden," who could help man the check station. However, other members said that the group shouldn't propose the two suggestions together. They asked Deane and Blane to come up with more research on a game warden before bringing the idea to the Town Council.
Island deer hunts
There will be 24 hunters shooting deer as part of an organized hunt sponsored by the DEM at Rodman's Hollow, scheduled for a total of 16 days in January and February.
As this is the first time that there will be a hunt on this property, the task force wants it to be successful, and sent a long list of safety suggestions to the DEM.
However, DEM's safety regulations are short, and few of the task force's suggestions were taken. There will be no orientation for the 24 hunters, of whom four are from Block Island, the rest from the mainland, and all were selected by a lottery system.
Despite suggestion from the task force, the DEM will not mark property boundaries with signs. Rodman's Hollow is surrounded mostly by Nature Conservancy and Land Trust property.
"If we have one problem, one complaint, this is done," said Deane.
The DEM will provide a map to hunters, and Deane distributed copies of the same map to members of the task force.
"You can't see the boundaries on the map," observed task force member Sara McGinnes. Blane, one of the hunters selected for this hunt, said he walked the property with this map in hand. He appeared unsure about the map's quality.
"Unfortunately, this is what we have to work with," said Deane. Members wondered if there was anything they could do to help the hunt go smoothly.
DEM Environmental Police Officers are guaranteed to monitor the hunt 50 percent of the time, said Deane. Because it's state land, hunters don't need to report to town police or any island officials — so there is no way for the town to tell who the hunters are. Deane said he plans to sit down and talk with the EPOs.
First Warden Kim Gaffett, who attended the meeting, proposed that the town could help by putting up signs marking property boundaries in the well-travelled areas of Rodman's Hollow. She said she'd bring this up at a council meeting.
The Deer Task Force also announced another hunting opportunity on-island: Areas of the B.I. National Wildlife Refuge, managed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife, will be opened to permit-only hunting weekdays from January 21 to February 28. Interested hunters must apply at rhodeislandpermits.com to be entered in a lottery.
Task force member George Mellor presented his preliminary research on White Buffalo, an organization that helps communities decrease their deer herds.
"Is White Buffalo the only way we're going to eliminate the deer?" Mellor asked the group. Mellor added this was the only group of its kind he could find. Perfido said she also did some searching for similar groups, and came up empty-handed.
Other members noted that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife is another option, and offers similar services to White Buffalo.
Deane said that paying White Buffalo to eliminate the deer herd wouldn't be worth the price if island nature conservancy groups did not allow the group to hunt on conservation land, because so much of the island is conservation land.
Newly seated council member Sean McGarry, who attended the meeting, chimed in to support a company like White Buffalo. He said that having multiple hunters coming from the mainland makes him nervous, so he would lean toward using a single company to eliminate the deer.
Thanks and farewell to Chair Mary Sue Record
At the end of the meeting, the group thanked and bid farewell to Chair Mary Sue Record, who will not be renewing her seat.