From the Crow's Nest / Ed Chrostowski
Wildlife and humans in an uneasy alliance
Published 6:02 pm, Wednesday, October 6, 2010
This morning a doe and her fawn munched on some scraggly brush at the edge of an open field close just off Main Street, a nature tableau that delighted onlookers. On this day also, the newspaper featured a photograph of a moose that swam across Lake Waramaug just a few miles up the road.
A man standing in the field clapped his hands and shouted and the noise sent the skittish deer into the woods as he explained that he wanted them to take cover before the hunters arrived. At the lake, passersby were relieved that no harm had come to the moose.
Meanwhile, 13 separate tracts of open land within one Fairfield County town had been opened to deer-hunters this fall. Police continued to list "deer vs. vehicle" in the weekly traffic accident reports, health agencies held deer responsible for the spread of Lyme disease and woodsmen decried the damage over-browsing does to the landscape.
In light of these circumstances, it appears that there is an over-population of free-living animals as well as people and they keep encroaching on each other's turf. The fault lies, however, in the insistence by some that here is an incompatibility that can be held at bay only by killing the animals.
There is some encouraging evidence, though, that efforts at compromise are making headway. Figures published after a national hunting, fishing and wildlife recreation survey indicate that the number of hunting licenses issued in the United States has declined by 10 percent in the past five years. At the same time, nature associations indicate that people who like to photograph or just watch wildlife far outnumber hunters and the margin continues to grow rapidly.
Yet, there is a real legitimacy to concerns expressed by the Fairfield County Municipal Deer Management Alliance. There is indeed reason to control the growing herds. But the efforts shouldn't resort to the scare tactics such as were invoked in recent studies purporting to show the economic impact of roaming deer.
The report claimed that deer damage and control cost the average Fairfield County resident something in the area of $1,700 a year. Apparently, it seemed, that was the total bill for car accidents, Lyme disease and chewed-up landscapes. That seemed immediately like gross exaggeration and, sure enough, it was ultimately revealed that the data were based on a survey taken in a New Jersey town seven years ago. It wasn't what you would call relevant to Fairfield County in 2010, particularly after several seasons of "controlled hunting."
Nor will we subscribe to claims by deer-hunting advocates that they are doing a noble service in stocking the food pantries with venison for the hungry and the needy. Some of the meat does end up there probably, but only after the hunter stocks his own freezer.
So we are left to cope with this dilemma. Yes, there are too many deer. Yes, they do some damage and yes hunting is a legitimate time-honored outdoor sport. But isn't it true also that nature has its own way to achieving a balance? Weather conditions that may limit food and mobility, dwindling forage area and the increasing presence of predator animals like coyotes are natural controls on the herds.
In contrast, hunting in suburban areas can increase the number of car accidents as deer fleeing for their safety run out onto roads. It's no coincidence that the number of such accidents rises greatly during hunting season. And parents, worried about bows and rifles, cringe when their children or dogs venture to play amidst autumn's splendor in wooded areas.
Certainly the deer herds need to be "managed" as the name of the county alliance implies because the harm they can cause is real. Nor does anyone want to deprive the ethical huntsman of a legitimate sport. But the vision of that harmless doe and fawn in the field this morning and the picture of the swimming moose are compelling also. There must be a way to reconcile the clash. Bullets and arrows flying through fields and woods tucked into our neighborhoods can't be the best answer we can come up with.