Aquinnah selectmen support two extra weeks of deer hunting

Fewer deer mean fewer ticks and reduced incidence of Lyme disease, biologist Dick Johnson says.

In this file photo from Dec., 2015, a team of hunters armed with shotguns stalked the Martha's Vineyard Airport grounds in an effort to remove deer from within the perimeter fence that pose an aviation risk. — File photo by Sam Moore

The Aquinnah board of selectmen became the latest town board to endorse an additional two-week deer hunting season, with a unanimous vote at their regular meeting on Tuesday night.

The board’s vote was informed by a presentation by Dick Johnson, a biologist working with the Island Boards of Health, who has been making the rounds with Island boards of selectmen. Mr. Johnson was asking for selectmen to write a letter to the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife endorsing an additional two-week deer hunting season in January.

“The idea of the hunt is to reduce the number of deer so ticks have a harder time finding a host,” he said. “The mainstream view is that as the number of deer are reduced, the number of ticks laying eggs goes down and so the number of ticks goes down.”
Not all Gay Headers were receptive.

Elise Lebovit objected to the deer hunt, and read from an article in the Block Island Times that claimed the deer were not to blame, and that the number of mice should be reduced. Mr. Johnson respectfully disagreed and further noted that there were about 500,000 mice on Martha’s Vineyard, and it would be difficult to reduce their numbers.

Aquinnah resident Jay McLeod complained of trespassing issues associated with deer hunting. He characterized the hunting near his house in Pancake Hollow as a “free-for-all.” He said that off-Island hunters were on private property at empty summer houses, and that some thefts had occurred. Police Chief Randhi Belain took exception. “We have the toughest law on the Island,” he said. “You need written permission from the landowner, and a plot plan.”

Chairman Julianne Vanderhoop asked Chief Belain if adding two weeks to the hunting season would be a problem. “It’s just another two weeks,” he said. “And it doesn’t seem like we have near as many hunters as we did years ago, not even close.”

Mr. McLeod proposed having a registry of hunters. Chief Belain said that he would have no problem with a registry.

Fire Chief Simon Bollin, who is a hunter, was doubtful about the effectiveness of the extra two weeks of hunting. “The deer will get smarter,” he said. “They’ll move to places where you can’t hunt. That’s the real issue.” He said that he watched the deer move into Vineyard Haven during the hunting season, moving between the houses. He said that it would be necessary to get permission to push them out of densely populated areas back into the State Forest.

Ms. Vanderhoop, who also serves on the Aquinnah board of health, said that Lyme disease was at epidemic proportions in both Aquinnah and Chilmark, and that she was strongly in favor of the hunt. Mr. Newman proposed the resolution to write the letter, and it passed unanimously.

Other business

Town administrator Adam Wilson suggested that Aquinnah join 167 other Massachusetts towns in the Community Compact. In exchange for agreeing to pursue best practices if they signed on to a state program, members of the compact become eligible for state funding and guidance. “We already have a housing production plan,” Mr. Wilson pointed out. He told the selectmen that having such a plan was listed as a best practice by the state, and would qualify them for funding. He also reminded the board that the Martha’s Vineyard Commission was working to get a regional engineer for the Island to work on transportation projects. This too is considered a best practice. The selectmen voted to allow Mr. Wilson to complete the application to join the compact.

Selectman James Newman, chairman of the committee which oversees the Tri-Town Ambulance Service, reported that the service was about purchase two ambulances for $350,000, using  a reserve fund. Twenty percent of insurance payments have been put into the fund “for many years,” he said. Mr. Newman said that it is time for the town to renew its agreement with the ambulance company. Little has changed, he said, since the last agreement in 2011. Mr. Newman said the company was very well run and that the budget was quite stable. He suggested that between $20,000 and $30,000 should probably be set aside each year for the company. A warrant article will be drawn up for the annual town meeting.