Are deer meat to be hunted? Tick-bearing, shrub-eating, accident-causing pests whose population should be reduced? Or innocent creatures of breath-taking grace, leaping through the woods, providing suburbanites with fleeting visitations from the realm of nature’s transcendent beauty?
Ridgefielders will have that debate — next year, as winter turns to spring.
This fall, the hunt is on.
The Board of Selectmen voted 4-to-1 at its Sept. 5 meeting to approve a 2018-19 “controlled hunt” of deer on a list of 15 town properties proposed by the Deer Management Implementation Committee. The motion by Selectman Bob Hebert calls for a public hearing and town meeting by March 31, 2019, to reconsider the question of hunting deer on town lands.
“We can have a public hearing and a town meeting prior to next year’s deer hunt,” Hebert said.
The selectmen also approved spending up $1,700 on signs to post on the open spaces, informing people there is hunting dawn to dusk weekdays, and reminding hunters that whenever school is out — vacation, snow days, whatever — hunting is forbidden.
“No school, no hunting,” as Selectwoman Maureen Kozlark put it.
Although the selectmen put the debate off half a year to allow another season of hunting, townspeople will reconsider the question of hunting on town land — hunting on state and private land is regulated by the state.
“We haven’t revisited it, as a community,” Selectwoman Barbara Manners said of the 2006 vote for deer hunting. “We said it was an experiment.”
“It was overwhelming,” Kozlark recalled of the 2006 vote, which supported hunting 531 to 194. “People didn’t want Lyme disease. They were tired of car accidents.”
Evaluation of properties
The other major argument for the hunt — that deer eat shrubs and bushes, damaging forest understory as well as expensive landscaping in people’s yards — is being looked at by the Conservation Commission, which each year votes to recommend open space parcels to the selectmen for the hunt.
“It is important for us to demonstrate that the closures further our stewardship goals,” Conservation Commission Chairman James Coyle said in a letter to the selectmen. “To this end we are doing our part by undertaking an evaluation of the properties that have been hunted, for evidence of recovery in the vegetation.”
Conservation Commissioner Jack Kace said this report would compare the number of seedlings in specific sites with counts taken in 2010.
“We should have it done by the end of the month,” Kace said.
Manners, who has long been uncomfortable with the deer hunt, was the lone vote against the motion for hunting on the 15 parcels Oct. 15 through Jan. 31.
By the rough measure of people seeing deer around town, Manners said the hunt appeared to have achieved its goal of reducing the population significantly.
In April, Stefano Zandri of the deer committee had briefed the selectmen, reporting that last year’s town hunt took a total of 60 deer — nine bucks and 51 does.
The state’s count of all deer taken by hunting last year in Ridgefield — in the controlled hunt on town open spaces, on state land such as the Great Swamp or Bennetts’ Pond, and also on private properties — showed a total of 180 deer taken, Zandri said.
The last hunt passed without problems or complaints, Zandri told the selectmen in April. “We had a great year. We had no issues,” he said.
At the Sept. 5 meeting, Zandri said that by the state’s last count Ridgefield and nearby towns were found to have 40-something deer per square mile.
“We were at something like 60,” said First Selectman Rudy Marconi.
“We were at 70,” said Zandri.
“If you are to continue this,” said Manners, “why are we not to expect it will go from 40 down to 20?”
The counts — done with fly-overs that require renting aircraft and pilots — are expensive. Zandri said the state is now looking at whether it’s more cost effective to take photographs from drones for the deer counts.
The selectmen also revisited some concerns touched on in April, including the fact that a single hunter on the approved list had many more deer kills than the other hunters — not a violation of hunt rules, but the selectmen seemed to find it unsettling.
“We had one guy that took dozens. That seemed a little odd,” said Selectmen Steve Zemo.
“…Where is this meat going?”
Zandri said the simple fact was one of the hunters had more time to spend in the woods than the others did.
The state sets seasons for different types of deer hunting, based on the weapons use: archery season is Oct. 15 to Jan. 31; firearms, Nov. 14 to Dec. 4; and there’s a muzzleloader season from Dec. 5 to Dec. 31.
Nine of the 15 properties approved for hunting this year would be hunted only by archery: Linden Lane, 26 acres; Ridgebury Farms, 94 acres; Bobby’s Court, 34 acres; Keeler Court, 26 acres; Colonial Heights, 19 acres; Peaceable Refuge, 16 acres; Silvermine Ridge, 14 acres; Turtle Ridge Court, 10 acres; and 20 acres between Old Trolley Road and Shadow Lake.
Six other properties would be open for archery, but could also be hunted during the various gun hunting seasons.
Hunting by archery and both muzzleloaders and regular firearms would be allowed at: Laurel Lane, 50 acres; and Shadow Lake, 40 acres.
The Ledges Road property, 26 acres, and Sarah Bishop, 39 acres, are approved for archery and regular firearms hunting, but not muzzleloaders.
Stonecrest, 34 acres, is listed for archery and shotgun hunting.
The Ridgefield Golf Course, 166 acres, will be open to hunting by archery with a “limited muzzleloader” season.
The selectmen plan to assemble information on the hunt and the deer population — from the state, the Conservation Commission, the deer committee — before townspeople debate the issue in the spring
“We want to have all the information for the meeting,” Marconi said.