Article 20 Rebuttal

Please Support Deer Management on Town Land
Opponents of bow-hunting have introduced the following article for a vote on Wednesday May 15 at town Meeting:

ARTICLE 20: AMEND GENERAL BY-LAW, ARTICLE III, POLICE REGULATIONS: “There shall be no hunting on any town-owned land in the Town of Weston, Massachusetts.”
1. Why did the Conservation Commission initiate bow hunting on public land? Their claim: “After a self-selected survey with 231 respondents, or 1.9% of the town’s population, 72% of whom considered deer a ‘problem’, the Commission determined that deer are a ‘problem’ in Weston. Their solution was to allow hunters onto our town lands.”
Our response:
  • The Conservation Commission’s land management mission is to create a balance for people, plants, & all wildlife.
  • Wildlife biologists estimate there are 25 deer per square mile in our region, and that is consistent with the impacts we have seen in Weston. Optimal numbers to minimize harm to humans, ground-nesting birds, wildflowers, and forest is closer to 10 per square mile. That is our long-term goal, but our more immediate goal is to slow and then stop the rise in deer population.
  • Weston’s deer overpopulation harms the forest understory and the animals that live in it, spreads Lyme disease, causes substantial damage to crops and ornamental plantings, and leads to deer-car collisions.
Over 9 months during 2011-2012, the Conservation Commission hosted forums, a public forest walk, and a public survey to gauge concern about deer and related issues and to educate members of the Commission and the public about deer. Botanists, wildlife biologists, and Lyme disease experts who attended agreed that Weston is beginning to see the adverse effects of too many deer, a problem that has become much worse in many semi-rural towns like ours. Bow hunting is the only practical solution to this problem.

2. Does deer density affect Lyme disease? Their claim: “White-footed mice, not deer, carry the Lyme Disease bacteria. Deer & other mammals are hosts. Reducing the deer population allows regrowth of underbrush that hides mice, supporting increased rodent population, and forces the ticks to seek other hosts, large mammals like humans and dogs.”
Our response:
  • The February 2013 State Lyme Disease Commission (LDC) Report concluded that deer are the main reproductive host of the deer tick.” Deer are not carriers of Lyme disease, but they are critical to the tick life cycle: DNA analysis of blood ingested by ticks showed that 94% of adult ticks took their final blood meal from a deer.
  • Islands that once experienced high rates of Lyme infection, such as Monhegan Island, Maine, had no Lyme disease once the deer were removed. Reducing deer to 10 per square mile in Weston would not eliminate Lyme disease, but it would reduce the density of ticks and might help reduce Lyme infections. Bow hunting is not a panacea for tick-borne diseases, but it is an important part of the long-term strategy recommended by the LDC.

3. Has Lyme disease “declined dramatically” in Massachusetts? Their claim: “The U. S. Center for Disease Control reports that the incidence of Lyme disease in MA has declined dramatically from a peak in 2009.”
Our response:
  • The State Lyme Disease Commission reported in 2013 that the incidence of tick-borne disease “is on the rise, both numerically and geographically. Massachusetts ranks among the most highly endemic states, with incidence rates that placed it in second place in the nation in 2008.”
  • Lyme disease is notoriously under-reported, because laboratory testing is not routinely performed, laboratory results are unreliable and difficult to interpret, and clinical diagnosis is often not reported to the MA Department of Public Health (MDPH). The MDPH itself estimates a 5- to 10- fold under-reporting rate for Lyme disease.
The Center for Disease Control only reports confirmed cases that are passed along to it by the MDPH. This flawed reporting chain makes it impossible to draw any conclusions about reported CDC trends in the number of Lyme cases, in Weston or statewide, but no public health official claims that it has “declined dramatically.”

4. Have deer-car collisions decreased to the point that they are not a concern? Their claim: Even as the number of car trips in Weston increases every year, the Weston Police Department reports that deer-car incidents peaked in 2009 and have declined each year since.
Our response:
  • The number of reported deer-car collisions in Weston peaked in 2000, at 41. For the next decade, collisions fluctuated between 30 and 40 per year. Since 2010, reported deer collisions have been in the 20’s. This decline is good news, and may mean that both drivers and deer are becoming more cautious. We remain concerned that as deer numbers continue to rise, collisions will also rise.
Deer-car collisions tend to be single-car accidents that the Federal Highway Administration estimates are not reported in more than 70% of cases. Many animals that are injured wander away from the road and suffer greatly before they die. We believe that many more than 24 deer were killed by cars in Weston last year.

5. Who were Weston’s hunters in 2013? Their claim: “Twenty-six hunters were given permits for hunting in Weston, only six of whom are Weston residents. Twenty-six hunters had use of many acres of our town conservation land for three of the most beautiful months of the year.”
Our response:
  • The Commission accepted all Weston residents, employees, and former employees that applied to the bow hunting program. Other hunters included police, fire, and conservation personnel from nearby towns. All hunters passed background checks and a proficiency test. Hunters volunteered over 45 hours of time doing trail work and removed three illegal deer stands during the 2012 hunting season.
Weston adopted the state regulated deer hunting season, running 11 weeks from mid-October through the end of Dec., excluding Sundays.

6. Is bow-hunting safe? Their claim: “Not the wooden bows and arrows from movie westerns, modern bow hunters use high tech metal weapons that powerfully propel arrows with long, razor sharp blades. These blades are dangerous to any children or pets who may encounter them in our town lands.”
Our response:
  • For as long as Massachusetts has kept records, there has never been a report of an injury to a non-hunter during bow-hunting season.
  • Two characteristics of bow hunting make it safe. First, the effective range of a bow is very short (generally not more than 25 yards) & the hunter must have a clear view of the deer at close range to take a shot. Second, from a stand, the trajectory of the arrow is downwards. No arrows can be discharged from the ground, & few arrows are lost.
The Conservation Commission places the highest priority on safety, and carefully controls who is allowed to hunt, and where and how they are allowed to hunt.

7. Is hunting allowed in nearby towns? Their claim: “Hunting is forbidden on public land in every town neighboring Weston: Lincoln, Wayland, Natick, Wellesley, Newton & Waltham. Weston is the only one to allow hunting on public land.”
Our response:
  • Our immediate neighbors do not currently have bow-hunting on town land. However, bow-hunting is taking place successfully on private land in Weston, Lincoln, Natick, and Wayland, as well as on public land managed by land trusts and Fish and Wildlife Service in many surrounding towns. Nearby towns, including Sudbury, Framingham, Medfield, Dover, and Andover have opened town lands to hunting without mishap or conflict with other users. Suburban bow hunting is expanding as it must if it is to effectively control the deer population.

8. Can hunting have a measurable impact on the number of deer in Weston? Their claim: “Killing eighteen deer in a season is not a population management program.”
Our response:
  • Wildlife biologists have told us that reducing the herd by about 100 deer annually, including those killed by automobiles, would eventually bring Weston’s deer population to sustainable levels. In 2012, hunters on private and public lands combined took a total of 36 deer. Another 24 (and probably more) were killed by cars, for a total of at least 60 deer. This number is enough to slow the rate of growth. Each of the 10 does killed on town land would likely have had twins this spring; as a result, another 20 or so animals were prevented from joining Weston’s herd.

9. Will hunting in Weston cause a “compensatory rebound effect”? Their claim: “Reliable data suggests a “compensatory rebound effect’ in which multiple births and increased fertility follow periods of hunting, and the population spike is supported by foliage regrowth.”
Our response:
  • A “rebound effect” only happens after culling a deer herd that has a reduced birthrate because it is already stressed and starving. Our deer herd, on the contrary, is below biological carrying capacity and is likely to increase until it reaches a density at least two to four times what it is today, if the experience of hundreds of similar towns in Connecticut and New Jersey is any indication.
  • Weston’s suburban environment provides deer with abundant fields, forests, landscaping and ornamental plants for deer to eat year-round. Hunting cannot increase deer fertility because Weston’s deer are already having plenty of twins each spring. They are already reproducing at maximum rates. That is the problem.

10. Will deer from surrounding towns be drawn into Weston? Their claim: “Additionally, since Weston is not an island, deer from surrounding towns may be drawn into any newly under-populated areas.”
Our response:
  • Yes, deer will migrate into Weston from surrounding towns. Deer management should be a regional effort by all towns, and that is what is happening as more towns adopt bow hunting. We have a responsibility to do our share.
  • The fact of deer migration between towns is one of the reasons that the Commission believes that contraception will not work as a method of population control. Weston Deer Friends' expert on large mammal contraception, Dr. Jay Kirkpatrick, stated that "immunocontraception is not designed for truly wild deer in large open forests." Rather, Dr. Kirkpatrick said that immunocontraception is a tool for an urban deer population, where hunting is not possible and where people have given names to the semi-tame deer that live in their yards. In Weston, we have forests and our deer are still wild. Immunocontraception is not the right tool to manage Weston's deer.

The Conservation Commission unanimously recommends a NO vote on Article 20