Monday, December 12, 2005

Over the Weekend: Deer Control, The Newest Government Service

Like plowing the roads or operating a summer day camp, deer management is becoming a service of local government.

The latest town to accept this new government responsibility is Darien, Connecticut, according to this story in the Stamford Advocate. Through the end of January, the town will allow 10 bow hunters to hunt on a nature preserve, called Selleck’s Woods, that abuts I-95. Town officials are hoping the hunters kill as many as 16 deer. (How many deer that will leave on the 28-acre preserve isn’t clear.)

Last winter, Greenwich hired sharpshooters to kill deer in several of its parks; Ridgefield, Wilton and Redding have authorized hunting on public. Several towns on Long Island have promoted hunting (although Lloyd Harbor’s effort has been marred by vandals.) And on Saturday morning, more than 70 people showed up for a meeting to discuss hunting on public land in Pound Ridge, which borders Fairfield County.

Hunting is now no longer a subsistence activity, nor is it a recreational activity; it is an activity sponsored by local governments for the betterment of townspeople in general.

(With their own ecological interests in mind, conservation organizations have been in the forefront on this. The Nature Conservancy allows hunting at its Devil’s Den preserve, which covers 1,756 acres in Weston and Redding, the Advocate reported. Greenwich Audubon allowed bow hunters to kill deer on its land last winter and the winter before. And the Darien Land Trust, which owns 22 acres adjoining Selleck’s Woods, also plans to allow hunting on its property.)

In a way it makes sense that towns play a large role in solving the problem, because towns, through their zoning and development regulations, played a large role in creating the problem. What I mean is that large-lot development results in ideal deer habitat – lots of little clearings with shrubs for food, and forests for cover. At the same time, houses are close enough together to make hunting with a rifle way too dangerous. Class and social differences play a role too. The people who buy expensive houses on three and four acres, and commute to jobs in the city or in White Plains or Stamford in their Audis and BMWs, are not the same people who don camouflage jumpsuits, rub coal black on their faces, and dab themselves with scents that smell like fox urine so that when they sneak out to their tree stands before dawn in winter the deer won’t be scared off by their human scent. Residents of the outer suburbs not only don’t hunt, they don’t even know anyone who hunts, and so if they were inclined to let someone kill deer on their land, they wouldn’t know who to ask.

And there are problems inherent in the attitudes of the hunters themselves. About five years ago, I heard from a colleague, who heard from a friend, that there was a fellow who lived about an hour west of my town who was looking for land to hunt on. I got in touch with him and told him that he was welcome to hunt on our land but that I wanted him to concentrate of killing does, because killing females is the only way to reduce the deer population. He was happy to oblige, he said, and so we let him hunt. He killed a buck or two the first year. The nest year we let him return, and told him again we wanted him to kill does. Yes, of course, he said, and immediately added, “Any big boys around?” – in other words, had we seen any bucks. After the third year of this, he had killed perhaps three males and no females, and so we politely rescinded our invitation.

My point is that it is only very recently, if at all, that hunters, as well as the hunters who run the hunting programs for the state conservation departments, have come to terms with the notion that it’s not unmanly to kill female deer or that there are reasons to hunt besides wanting to put a big rack above the mantle. Hunters could have been helping solve the problem by killing females but their old-school attitudes kept them focused primarily on bucks.

To a large extent, the suburbs created their white-tailed deer problem and they now seem determined to solve it as well.


Blogger Hungry Hyaena said...

Excellent post! That most hunters continue to balk at the idea of hunting does is unfortunate and outright backwards. Eventually, perhaps, the trophy mentality will be replaced, but it seems a long time in coming. Even educated, conservation minded hunters sometimes "pick" a buck out of a group, ignoring the females in favor of the rack. No matter how many times I see (or hear) it happen, I'm discouraged.

Happily, though, the night after Thanksgiving, at a check-in in Virginia, I saw three proud, salivating hunters check-in does over the course of a half-hour. Only one buck was checked during this time. Perhaps there is some hope, after all.

2:31 PM  
Anonymous said...

I don't believe that "most" hunters balk at the idea of hunting does. In fact, it is exactly the opposite for us at Whitetail Solutions. We pride ourselves on the fact that the vast majority of the deer we harvest are does, thereby reducing the deer population and the tick population as well. We are licensed and insured bowhunters that specialize in reducing the deer herd in urban situations. We would be happy to discuss removing deer from your property...safely and ethically.

6:59 PM  

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