An ad hoc committee established to look into how the deer population is impacting Shelton has recommended allowing bowhunting on “a small number of suitable city open space properties.”
The Deer Committee suggests that rules should be established for where and when hunting could take place, “such as the minimum distance from trails or property lines, approval of tree stand locations, and days when hunting is allowed.”
Those seeking special hunting permits for the city-owned land “should be subject to background checks, references and interviews, with preference given to Shelton residents,” according to recommendations in the committee’s recently released report.
Over time, the report says, the city-owned areas open to hunting could be expanded.
“Controlled recreational hunting is highly cost effective and is the most commonly used form of deer control in Fairfield County by municipalities and by organizations such as the Nature Conservancy and the Audubon Society,” states the report.
Form Deer Management Committee
The report recommends that a Deer Management Committee be formed to pursue these goals. It states that future actions should require the review of the Conservation Commission and the approval of the Board of Aldermen.
“A delayed response will only worsen the problem and make it much more difficult to address in the future,” says the report, referring to the impact of deer overpopulation on the ecosystem, vehicle collisions and Lyme disease.
The report also recommends creating a volunteer-lead program to match hunters with private property owners; monitoring the effectiveness of using professional services to lower the deer populations in other towns; and conducting public education on how deer impact ecosystems, repelling deer in yards, hunting safety, and related issues.
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Click below for the Deer Committee website to see the full report:
The Deer Committee was established in 2013 by the Board of Aldermen to look at deer-related issues such as landscaping damage, vehicle collisions, disease (Lyme disease from ticks), and population levels involving the animals.
The committee has held regular meetings open to the public. With the release of its report, the Deer Committee now has been officially disbanded.
Impact on forest ‘understudy’
The report highlights the damage being done to the “forest understory” by the abundance of deer in Shelton. The shrubs and plants growing under the main canopy of a forest make up the understory.
According to the report, the overpopulation of deer leads to the deterioration of the understory due to over-foraging. “When deer don’t have enough to eat, they start devouring the understory,” said Joe Palmucci, Deer Committee chairman.
The reports says once the understory is severely damaged, it can be hard for it to come back because there are no seeds left in the ground.
Without shrubs and plants to eat in the woods, deer begin to look for food elsewhere, including along roads and in people’s yards. This leads to an increase in deer/vehicle collisions.
Palmucci said city Conservation Agent Teresa Gallagher, who also was a Deer Committee member, found much damage was being done by deer to the forest understory in Shelton open space properties. In certain locations, he said, it’s “being devoured.”
According to the report, “In some areas, nearly all vegetation has been eliminated below the browse line. Most other areas showed signs of unsustainable rates of browsing, with very few tree seedling surviving and stunted vegetation throughout.”
Number of deer in Shelton
Based on state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection estimates, Shelton has from 29 to 73 deer per square mile, or up to 2,000 deer within city limits.
An ecologically sustainable deer population would range from about 10 to 30 deer per square mile, according to the committee’s report.
An average of 49 deer/vehicle strikes per year were reported to the Shelton Police Department from 2011 to 2013. This does not include Route 8, or deer strikes that were not reported to the police, so the numbers probably are considerable higher.
Monetary costs to residents
The report says Shelton residents “are thought to spend millions of dollars each year” related to deer overpopulation. This includes money on landscaping damage, deer fencing, deer repellents, tick-control yard treatments, vehicle damage, crop damage, and health costs due to tick-borne illnesses in people and pets.
The report addresses the issue of Lyme disease. Ticks are commonly found on deer. The report says studies indicate a deer population needs to be reduced to 8 to 12 deer per square mile to have a significant impact on the tick population and associated illnesses.
The report concludes that bowhunting is a safe activity. “There have been no recorded bowhunting fatalities involving non-hunters in Connecticut,” says the report.
“Bowhunters shoot from tree stands,” states the report. “The range is limited and arrows that miss the mark are directed into the ground. The majority of bowhunting injuries are sustained when hunters fall from tree stands.”
Palmucci described bowhunting as “very safe” and said Shelton has many responsible hunters.
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Read what a state wildlife official says about all the deer:
For those who might oppose killing deer on municipal property, Palmucci said he respects “people’s love of wildlife,” but that “a managed deer population is a healthy deer population.”
Gallagher said she hikes in spots around the state where bowhunting is allowed but never sees the hunters.
She said open space areas could be closed to hiking during periods when controlled recreational bowhunting is allowed.
She also noted that deer pose a direct risk to humans through vehicle collisions. “People die from hitting deer,” she said of motorists.
What areas for hunting?
The report does not recommend what open space parcels might be opened to bowhunting. “We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves,” Gallagher said.
In addition to Palmucci and Gallagher, Deer Committee members were William Dyer (vice chairman), Dan Beardsley, Jeff Forte, Allison Menendez, Darren Toth, Paul Uhrynowski and Brad Wells.