Ticks and deer
As Sam Telford, a research scientist who has studied ticks on Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket for two decades, told members of the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (DFW) board Tuesday at Katharine Cornell Memorial Theatre, "We have heard comments from the hunters as to how things could be managed a little more effectively, but I think we don't want to be bogged down trying to find the perfect solution. We need to act now; we have waited too long."
Along with other business, the wildlife board heard testimony from Islanders and others concerning a proposal to extend the Island's deer shotgun season by one week. The idea is to reduce the Island deer population from more than 40 per square mile now to 30 or fewer and by doing so reduce the deer tick population, which is the vector for a variety of tick-borne diseases that endanger the Island's human population of residents and visitors.
According to a report this morning by Nelson Sigelman, Times news editor, Mr. Telford described the proposed extended season as a necessary first step. The researcher testified that even 25 to 50 more deer killed each year might be significant in the long term in reducing the incidence of tick borne disease.
"It is our children and their children that will benefit," Mr. Telford said, and he urged the board to "take the long view."
The board's chairman, George Darey of Lenox, suggested that his board is willing to do just that. We think they should.
Criticism of the proposal from Island hunters reflected a variety of narrower concerns on their parts, but it also included an acknowledgement of the troublesome public health issues associated with ticks and deer, the tick's prime host. Despite their criticisms, the hunters argued helpfully that, to be effective in reducing the deer population, the extended season will need to be accompanied by relaxation of restrictions on hunter access to large properties, where deer sequester themselves to escape hunters, as the Land Bank has consistently done on many of its properties. An excellent observation and one that suggests that merely extending the shotgun season may not achieve the goals that wildlife management officials have in mind, without a concerted effort to make increased hunting efficient.
The hunters' view was echoed by Bill Woytek, MassWildlife deer project leader, who told the board that the extended shotgun season could be an effective management tool for reducing deer but, he warned, not if towns, private property owners, and non-profit organizations do not provide access.
Of course, we do need to act now, as Mr. Telford said. But, we also need to act in concert. The state wildlife board, the Island health-care community, town and regional elected officials, leaders of non-profit conservation organizations that control thousands of acreage, large private landowners, and hunters must coordinate an effort to reduce the risk of tick-borne diseases. Taking more deer each year should be a part of such a concerted response.