Connecticut Parks Bring In The Deer Hunters

fromWSHU

A booming deer population has become an issue across much of the eastern half of the country. To some, deer are a beautiful symbol of nature. To others, they're a nuisance and a hazard to public health and the ecosystem. Much of the deer population growth is in suburbs, where hunting isn't a big part of the culture. But some Connecticut suburbs are so fed up, they're opening up their parks and woods to hunters.

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And now, to the sport of hunting. To some, deer are a beautiful symbol of nature. To others, they are a nuisance, and a hazard to public health and the ecosystem. Some towns, particularly in the suburbs, are so fed up they're opening up their parks to hunters. Craig LeMoult, from member station WSHU in Connecticut, reports.

CRAIG LEMOULT: The path is still lit by the early morning moonlight as Howard Kilpatrick(ph) starts his hike.

Mr. HOWARD KILPATRICK: We're going to head down this trail. We want to lift our feet up and put them down gently, try to walk on the part of the trail - there's not many leaves so we can get out there as quietly as possible.

LEMOULT: Kilpatrick hikes up a hill on some private property and settles in next to a tree overlooking a valley. He stands silent and still for about 15 minutes. And then from below, the faint sound of hooves. He raises his .30-06 caliber rifle, looks through the scope, and holds it perfectly still.

(Soundbite of gunshot)

LEMOULT: He sets off down the hill, where he finds a dead deer. It's average-sized, with short antlers. While Kilpatrick will feed his family with the deer meat he brings home, he also has a professional interest in it.

Dr. KILPATRICK: I'm a wildlife biologist, and I'm responsible for Connecticut's Deer Management Program.

LEMOULT: The U.S. Department of Agriculture says 20 years ago, there were fewer than a half a million deer in the country. That's ballooned to more than 17 million deer. Officials in Connecticut and nearby states say they're seeing more towns turning to deer management programs. Kilpatrick estimates there are around 60 deer per square mile in some Connecticut counties. He'd like to bring that number down to a more management eight to 15 deer per square mile.

Mr. KILPATRICK: They cause a lot of deer-vehicle accidents; they cause damage to agricultural crops; they play an important role in the spread of Lyme Disease; and they can impact, you know, our natural ecosystems by over-browsing and basically eliminating some plants species.

Ms. NANCY RICE (Friends of Animals): If you really want to solve those problems, there's a lot of other places you need to be looking.

LEMOULT: That's Nancy Rice. She works for the group Friends of Animals, which is based in Connecticut. Rice lives in the town of Fairfield, which recently changed regulations to allow hunting in the town's parks and woods. Some nearby towns are hiring sharpshooters or archers, or allowing limited numbers of hunters on specific days. Rice argues that there are better ways than hunting to reduce the number of deer-car collisions.

Ms. RICE: Fencing, lighting, street signs telling people, you know, you're in a deer zone; slow down. These are the places we should be looking.

LEMOULT: Deer contraception programs are used to control the population in some places. But wildlife management experts say that works best in small areas and can be prohibitively expensive.

(Soundbite of traffic)

LEMOULT: Carolyn Eberhardt lives across the street from a park in Fairfield. Hunting scares her, and she says if it's allowed here, she'll sell her house.

Ms. CAROLYN EBERHARDT: You know, I don't think any parent would feel comfortable with their kid wandering around doing something as innocent as walking through a park on a snowy day, and then getting a bullet in their head or an arrow in their back.

LEMOULT: Connecticut's Department of Environmental Protection says it's had no reports of accidents during controlled hunts, and argues that hunting is the only efficient and economical way to manage the deer population. But not everyone agrees the population needs managing. And even if they did, there'd still be debate about whether or not hunting is the answer.

For NPR News, I'm Craig LeMoult in Fairfield, Connecticut.

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