Ken Dixon And Frank MacEachern, Staff Writers Thursday, August 26, 2010
Greenwich is paying a hefty bill for Bambi and his friends as they wreak havoc throughout the town and its neighboring towns, said a report that studied the adverse economic impact of deer on Fairfield County.
According to the “Economic Impact of Deer Overpopulation in Fairfield County, CT” report, the total dollar figure for damage caused by deer for Greenwich is $15.1 million in 2008, just behind Fairfield that tops the list at nearly $17 million.
The single biggest category of damage is environment and landscaping where Greenwich sustained $12.6 million in damage. That was followed by tick control at $2.1 million, tick-borne Lyme disease at $319,000 and motor vehicle damage at $131,000.
While Greenwich ranked near the top in total dollars, the cost per capita was $255, 16th lowest out of the 23 municipalities studied. Sherman was the highest at $524 with Easton just in behind it at $520 per person.
The study was prepared by two staff members at the New York Medical College and commissioned by the Fairfield County Municipal Deer Management Alliance, the Connecticut Coalition to End Lyme Disease, and the Connecticut Audubon Society. The latter three groups have advocated tougher deer-management policies.
Karen Dixon, director of Greenwich Audubon Center, said she couldn’t comment on the economic impacts because the center did not participate in the study. But she said the center has a deer management plan that was implemented seven years ago to preserve habitat being eaten by deer.
“Deer really love to eat trees. Basically they stripped all the ground cover, stripped away all the shrubs,” she said. Some bird species that nested at ground level were losing their habitat.
The number of deer killed by bow hunters from the Greenwich Sportsman and Land Owners Alliance has dropped from 30 taken during the first season of 2003-2004 to seven last year. The hunts occur on the center’s four wildlife sanctuaries: Gimble, Fairchild, Caldwell and the main sanctuary all in northwest Greenwich.
The season begins in September and ends Jan. 30.
Dixon said it has been a success as plants eaten by deer were enjoying a resurgence, like the maple leaf viburnum, a plant that provides nesting and also a cover for birds and small mammals seeking to escape their predators.
Adopting the policy wasn’t easy, said Dixon, as she acknowledged some people have been opposed to it.
“We have to make management decision that are sometimes hard to make and not ones we want to ideally make,” she said. “There are people out there who don’t agree with us. We certainly respect their opinion.”
In 2005, the town began its own deer kill and hired professional hunters. They killed 80 deer that first season.
In a story in Greenwich Time last year prior to the 2009 hunting season, Conservation Director Denise Savageau said the program has worked but the deer levels were still too high, with deer reaching levels of 60 per square mile instead of the preferred 10 per square mile.
Savageau could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
If deer populations can be reduced to 10 to 12 per square mile, incidents of Lyme disease virtually disappear because deer tick colonies that carry the disease collapse, according to state researchers.
Other town’s also support up to five times as many deer per square mile.
Patricia Sesto, director of environmental affairs for the town of Wilton, said Tuesday that even though the town has had a hunting system for eight years, there are still as many as 70 deer per square mile there.
She said the study means that next year officials can show town councils and selectmen throughout the region the costs residents pay out of pocket and the potential benefits of inviting sharpshooters, such as those who have worked in Greenwich, to increase the number of deer killed.
“We need to be harvesting 300 a year,” said Sesto, questioning whether recreational deer hunting is capable of reducing deer populations to the point where the spread of Lyme disease can be halted.
The most productive year for hunters in Wilton resulted in 150 dead deer, but last year the harvest was about 45. Nearby towns, including Redding and Ridgefield, had much better results, she said.
She said that while deer contraception treatments are expensive, sharp-shooting programs, whether bow and arrow or rifle, are maturing and make more sense.
The public policy debate, however, will be persuading residents to pay new fees for helping eradicate local deer herds, by showing how much they can save in shrubbery, medical costs and auto repair bills.
“The transition between me writing a check for what I choose and a town surcharge, could require a large change in the social mindset and hopefully, this economic study can show that if you spend a fraction of the money, you can get major savings,” Sesto said.
“Fairfield County municipalities still do not have a good grasp of either the prevalence of Lyme or its economic consequences to society, as evidenced by their failure to enact aggressive deer management policies,” says researcher Deborah Viola of the NYMC, the co-author of the study.
Connecticut has the highest rate of Lyme disease in the nation.
Stephen R. Patton, director of landscape programs at the Nature Conservancy, said the study is the first of its kind to show the economic impact of deer overpopulation.
“This study demonstrates the broader need for a comprehensive effort, managed by the Department of Environmental Protection, to bring deer numbers down to levels that is healthy for our woodlands and for people.”
- Sunday Hunting: Well over 50% of the deer harvested occur on Saturdays. A high percentage should also be expected on Sunday. Get rid of the last BLUE LAW in statutes.
- Develop Controlled Hunts by the towns to include Certification: that the CEFS certified hunter, both residents and non-residents, can hit a target at a specified range (bowhunters 15-20 yards, Shotgun 40 yards). Shotguns as with bowhunting are short range. For added safety require all hunters use tree stands. Close no areas to the public. The safety record of 1 fatality in a century and 2-4 accidents per year by generally bird hunters (see http://www.ctsportsmen.com under Hot Issues 01/26/10 CT 2009 HUNTING RELATED INJURY REPORT demonstrates exemplary safety. By lottery, select a number of hunters utilizing DEP acreage standards and DEP seasons. Split seasons as required to provide more hunter opportunity. Require a report from hunters of number of deer taken; method of take; and number of days hunted. Evaluate hunters who qualified but did little or no hunting. Disqualify these for the following year lottery. No report submitted precludes inclusion in the lottery for the next two years. Similar standards were adopted by Mumford Cove with exemplary results.