Conservationists, Deer Committee reach compromise on hunt

A deer hunt compromise reducing the number of properties hunted in any year from 15 or so to five has been reached by the Conservation Commission and the Deer Committee.

The “plan for the future of the deer hunt in Ridgefield” agreement is outlined in a letter to the selectmen that is co-signed by Deer Committee head Stefano Zandri and Conservation Commission Chairman James Coyle. It says the plan was produced through discussion among “several members of the Conservation Commission and the Deer Committee” and was later “presented to the full membership of the Conservation Commission and Deer Committee and was approved by each.”

The proposal is on the Board of Selectmen’s agenda Wednesday night, July 17, for discussion and a “possible vote.”

Three year intervals

Key elements of the plan are:

 A list of 15 open space properties for possible hunting will be selected and approved by the Conservation Commission, similar to past practice.

 “No more than five of those properties would be hunted each year on a rotating basis” — meaning that “a given property would be hunted only every three years.

 “Each year the Deer Committee would present a list of five properties from the agreed upon list of 15 properties to the Board of Selectmen for concurrence by the Conservation Commission, similar to what is done at present.

 “At no time will any property be hunted with more than two hunters per parcel.” The number of hunters will be determined and approved by the Deer Committee.

 Each year the controlled deer hunt on Ridgefield open space “would not begin until roughy mid-October” and would run until the “the end of January” — assuming those times fall within the broader legal hunting season as set by the state each year.

 “The Conservation Commission and Deer Committee would continue working together on proper signage, neighbor notification, annual reporting, and other items to help assure a safe and controlled hunt.”

 The program of five-parcel town hunts would begin in the coming 2019-20 hunting season.

The plan, if approved by the selectmen, would only apply to the “controlled hunt” on town open spaces that dates back to 2007. Hunting on private property, or on state lands such a Great Swamp flood control area or the Bennett’s Pond State Park, would continue as it long has under state regulations and within the state hunting season.

June hearing

The effort to seek a compromise for the future of the hunt was proposed at a June 5 public hearing where the hunt was debated — and that hearing grew from the Board of Selectmen’s commitment, after discussions over the last year or so, to rethink the hunt.

At that hearing Conservation Commission members had talked of pausing the 12-year-old controlled hunt for two or three years — an idea the Deer Committee did not embrace.

People on both sides of the discussion agreed the deer population has decreased.

Since the hunt began in 2007, First Selectman Rudy Marconi said, the state’s count of deer in town had fallen. A recent count “reported approximately 40 deer per square mile,” Marconi said. “When we started we were closer to 70.”

“The herd densities of 70 to 80 down to 40 — a significant reduction,” Coyle said.

“When we started this the goal was 20 deer per square mile. If you shut the hunt down, the herd will start to climb again,” Zandri had said.

Selectwoman Barbara Manners, who had long advocated a rethinking of the town hunt, told the hearing there were clearly fewer deer around.

“I used to have deer come through my yard every day,” Manners said, “and I see two or three a season now.”