Martha’s Vineyard deer harvest number continues to decline

Tisbury selectmen discussed updating firearms bylaw in regards to hunting policies on Tuesday. — File photo by Tim Johnson

Perhaps efforts to reduce the Martha’s Vineyard deer herd have worked, or Island hunters did not hunt as hard as they did in the past, but for the third straight season the deer harvest number for all seasons combined dropped, according to harvest figures the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (DFW) released last week.

Weather and environmental conditions, including acorn production, affect Island deer harvests. For the second hunting season in a row, the Island had an abundance of acorns in 2010. The abundance of one of the deer’s favorite foods meant that the animals did not have to travel very far to feed and were therefore less vulnerable to hunters.

Vineyard deer hunters took a total of 570 deer during the archery, shotgun, and muzzleloader seasons in 2010. By comparison hunters checked in 628 deer in 2009 and 696 deer in 2008.

DFW deer project leader Sonja Christensen reported a total of 10,813 white-tailed deer harvested by licensed hunters during the combined 2010 statewide seasons.

By season, the total breaks down to five deer taken during the special deer season for paraplegic sportsmen; 3,778 taken in the archery season; 4,846 taken during the shotgun season; 2,068 taken during the muzzleloading season; and 116 deer harvested during the Quabbin Reservation hunt.

Ms. Christensen said that 2010 was the highest deer harvest on record by archers. “Archery is a vital management tool particularly in suburban areas where deer densities are higher due to limited hunting access,” she said.

Deer populations are managed according to deer density goals, which are established to maintain healthy deer populations in balance with the environment, according to DFW. Goals are set at levels that allow sustainable deer harvest and deer viewing opportunities for hunters and wildlife watchers, and at levels which minimize impacts on property damage, public health issues, and safety.

Island bow hunters took 179 deer during the state’s six-week archery season, an increase of 22 deer over the 2009 season and 18 fewer than the record archery total in 2008.

The shotgun total dropped from 372 to 320 animals, the third drop in three years.

The muzzleloader season also reported a drop in numbers, from 99 to 71.

Regulation change

The Massachusetts deer hunting season runs from mid-October to December 31. It includes a six-week archery season, two-week shotgun season, and approximately three-week muzzleloader season.

In communities around the state and country, an increase in the number of deer is blamed for heightened incidences of tick-borne diseases, a rise in deer-vehicle collisions, and environmental damage caused by over-browsing on young plants.

The Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (DFW) divides the state into 14 wildlife management zones. Deer populations have increased, particularly in suburban areas of eastern Massachusetts. In response, DFW has expanded the length of the hunting seasons and increased the availability of doe permits in select zones in an effort to control deer herds.

For example, there is no limit on doe permits on Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard, two areas of the state hard hit by tick-borne diseases.

This week, a regulation change that will allow deer hunters to use a hinge or break-open action muzzleloader during the 2011 primitive firearms season became official. Previously, this type of muzzleloader was prohibited from use during primitive firearms deer season.

No evidence of CWD

One concern of state wildlife officials is the spread of chronic wasting disease (CWD), a fatal neurological disorder known to affect white-tailed deer, mule deer, elk, and moose. DFW said that based on data gathered, there is no evidence of CWD in Massachusetts deer and moose.

“During the 2010 deer hunting season and into early 2011, Division biologists collected 627 samples from hunter-harvested, vehicle-killed, targeted, and clinical suspect deer from across the state for CWD monitoring and testing,” DFW said in a press release. “This was the ninth year of sampling in Massachusetts, as part of a nationwide CWD monitoring and surveillance program.”

CWD was first identified in the late 1960’s in Colorado and remained located in Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska for over two decades. CWD has been found in 19 states and 2 Canadian provinces and most recently in the eastern states of Maryland, New York, Virginia, and West Virginia.

The World Health Organization has concluded that there is no evidence that people can become infected with CWD. But state wildlife officials are taking no chances.

It is illegal to import all species of live deer. Importing, processing, or possessing whole carcasses or parts of deer or elk (from wild or captive deer herds) from states and Canadian provinces where CWD is present is also prohibited. The only exceptions to the regulation are cleaned skull caps, cleaned hides, finished taxidermy mounts, and deer meat that is deboned.

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