Editorial: Though not perfect, DEM plan best option for reducing deer herd

Sun, 12/22/2013 - 3:00pm

On Wednesday night the Town Council voted to approve a comprehensive plan developed by the state Department of Environmental Management (DEM) to cull Block Island’s deer herd. It is very far from a perfect solution but we believe it is the right course of action. It is a milestone in the effort to reduce the number of deer.

By all reasonable accounts we now have up to 100 deer per square mile on this island when a reasonable number would be 10 to 15. The fact is irrefutable that deer contribute significantly to the spread of Lyme disease and that menace has become a very serious threat to public health.

It has taken years to achieve public consensus that the deer were a serious problem. More importantly, the island did not control its own destiny and nothing could be achieved without the consent of the DEM. We owe a debt of gratitude to the Deer Task Force and its leadership for the careful, patient negotiating process with the DEM and the State Department of Health that achieved this outcome.

The plan employs professional sharpshooters to kill the deer and enlists other resources to preserve and process the meat and to dispose of the carcasses. As First Warden Kim Gaffett remarked  “This is not hunting.”

We support the suggestion that in future years an effort will be made to enlist local hunters in the process. Presumably, however, they would have to be trained as sharpshooters and that is a whole different skill set.

Although the predicted cost of about $128,000 for the first year gives one pause, it is remarkable that the DTF has been able to secure funds from private sources so that public funds will not be required.

The work is not done. Achieving success will require the earnest support of all involved — town officials, property owners, conservation groups — even those for whom this was not the chosen way. Cooperation from all parts will ensure that this plan is implemented safely and effectively.

We acknowledge the legitimate concerns of those who opposed this plan. We also applaud the efforts of those who developed the plan. We endorse the imperfect solution to what has become a major threat to the well-being of this community.