Deer Management Discussion Creates 'Uncomfortable Position' for Town Leaders
The Conservation Commission met with Weston Selectmen Wednesday night to talk about the town's 2012 Deer Management Program as well as its future.
It takes a high-tension topic for the phrases "deer slobber" and "bloody slaughter" to come up under the same agenda item at a Weston Board of Selectmen meeting.
But the town's 2012 Deer Management Program, which allowed bow hunting on five of Weston's conservation lands, is just such a topic.
Wednesday night, nearly every seat was filled in the first floor conference room at Weston Town Hall by the time Weston Conservation Administrator Michele Grzenda began her presentation.
Grzenda began by explaining the origins of the program, which involved a "handful of letters" selectmen and members of the Conservation Commission received between 2008 and 2010 that expressed concerns about "the burgeoning deer population and its effect on plants, public safety (deer-car collisions) and public health (Lyme disease)."
What followed were several years of public discussions and presentations, informal online surveys, nature walks and formal studies. In one of those online surveys, Grzenda said, 73 percent of the 231 residents who responded said they favored the town taking steps to establish a sustainable deer population, though the survey did not address the particular steps to be taken.
According to state averages, Grzenda explained, there's a region-wide deer overpopulation issue, with the Massachusetts Department of Fisheries and Wildlife estimating 25 deer per square mile in Weston and the surrounding area.
All of the presentations and discussions led to the decision in 2012 "that bow hunting was the only viable option” to curb the Weston deer population.
Grzenda went on to explain that the commission received hunting applications from more than 70 hunters and evaluated each carefully before giving preference to Weston residents and employees.
In all, 26 hunters were approved to hunt in Jericho Forest, Oglivie Forest, Dickson Fields, Blaney Aquifer and Sears Land. Those 26 hunters harvested 18 deer, 10 does and eight bucks, during the fall 2012 hunting season.
The presentation of statistics Wednesday proceeded without incident until Conservation Commission Chairwoman Laurie Bent presented a slide that outlined how quickly hunters reported the deer they shot died.
"It’s a troubling conversation, but we think it’s important to get it out there,” Bent said, showing that half of the deer (9) died in under a minute, one within five minutes, four within 30 minutes, three within one hour and one within five hours.
But Isabella Jancourtz spoke up from the audience to call the slide "disgusting" and admonish officials for getting behind a "bloody slaughter."
Several individuals in the room represented Weston Deer Friends, an organization formed to campaign against the program, but there were others in the room who said they had seen the ill effects deer have had on Weston's landscape and the consequences of deer overpopulation in general.
Patricia Siek said deer have destroyed the trees around the yard of her Miriam Street home, causing so much damage that she can see through the undergrowth and trees to the property behind her own.
"They lick our side-view mirrors," Siek said. "You try to get deer slobber off. I expect to find one in my kitchen one of these days. They look in my kitchen window while we’re eating."
Conservation Commission member Brian Donahue said that the commission will continue to collect data and has and continues to consider other means to stem the growth in the deer population, including contraception.
Donahue said that contraception has proven possible among urban deer herds, but "the amount of effort involved is staggering" in a semi-rural setting like Weston where every doe would need to be darted twice with contraceptive drugs.
“We would love to get [the deer population] down to eight to 10 per square mile, which is what the state recommends," Donahue said, explaining that 18 deer killed last season is a step in the right direction. "I don’t think that will happen overnight, but I think this will slow the rise.”
In addition to the public land deer hunting, hunting on private property is permitted and an average of 15 deer are harvested through that kind of hunting each year, Donahue said. The numbers for 2012 are still being tabulated, but so far the state has recorded that 29 deer were harvested in Weston -- 18 on public conservation land through the Deer Management Program and the rest through private land hunting.
The Conservation Commission has recommended continuing the program in 2013 and would need selectmen's approval to do so.
"The commission thinks that bow hunting is the best way to address this overpopulation for the benefit of residents, the benefit of the forest and even the benefit of the deer who are spared a more gruesome death,” Bent concluded.
Selectmen, however, said they wanted to wait to make any decisions until after a potential Town Meeting vote on the topic.
"It’s an uncomfortable position we’re forced to take,” said Michael Harrity, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, acknowledging that he'd seen the effect deer have on Weston's landscape but understands why people oppose hunting. "I’m encouraged that we’re going to measure what we can measure. We’re all going to be better off if we exchange information and have real data.
"If we’re going to do this, at least as long as I’m a selectman, it’s going to be one year at a time," Harrity said.
The Conservation Commission and Weston Deer Friends have both scheduled public forums prior to Town Meeting to discuss the issue:
- Conservation Commission forum -- April 23 at 7:30 p.m. at in the Great Room at the Weston Community Center.
- Weston Deer Friends forum, "Living with Deer and Without Lyme Disease” -- May 1 at 7:30 p.m. at Weston Public Library
Editor's Note: The location of the Conservation Commission forum has been updated.