If there’s one thing Redding’s residents can agree upon regarding deer management, it’s that tick-borne illnesses are a danger. But the method as to just how the town should go about doing what it can to help alleviate those diseases was a subject of contention at the Board of Selectmen meeting Monday night.
Perhaps the most hostile point of the discussion came when Park and Recreation Commissioner Paul Degener mentioned that because of significant tick-borne illnesses reported as being acquired at Topstone Park, a controlled rifle hunt there might be something the town should consider trying one day this year.
But some did not agree.
“My children live within rifle distance” of Topstone Park, said Charles Catania, Redding’s deer warden. “There’s a number of residents — a significant, significant number” who would be totally against a rifle hunt there.
“We’ve heard just the opposite,” Degener quickly rebutted.
Selectman Julia Pemberton said that Lyme disease is an issue that needed to be addressed, but that sort of hunt “in that area could be premature," as residents need to be exposed to more information at public hearings.
“We didn’t think it would be [premature],” Degener said. The hunt would just require “two hours before sunrise and two hours after sunset.”
The public hearings “might be an overkill on the effort,” he said. “We think it’s a pretty simple proposal,” but if the town wants to go into that depth, then the town should go into that depth.
First Selectman Natalie Ketcham said the town would not leave the Park and Recreation Commission out of the conversation as it moves forward.
“It would seem to me that rifles in the town of Redding is going to be an issue,” Selectman Don Takacs said.
Degener said this kind of hunt would include five or six hunters — “no more than that” — who would be vetted by Police Chief Douglas Fuchs.
“Any kind of stray shots would not be going into the vicinity of any landowner,” Degener said, adding the park would be shut down and monitored during that time.
, president of the Redding Land Trust, said the park couldn’t be “shut down.”
“I know people whose property borders it,” she said. “You can enter it from everywhere. This is a summer of anniversary for Topstone Park. We should celebrate what it was meant [as] — it was not meant to be a target range.”
Some in the room were in favor of bow hunts instead of rifle hunts.
“A bow hunt risks the injured animal going into property or into the road,” Degener said. “A rifle hunt is less risky for the animal and the surrounding [homeowners].”
David Streit, chairman of the Fairfield County Deer Management Alliance, said in 2009, there were 64 deer per square mile in Redding, and in 2010, there were 76 deer per square mile.
“What we extrapolate from that, I’m not entirely sure,” he said. But in 2008, he said, the town’s plan was to reduce the deer population to 10 to 12 deer per square mile. Bow-hunting, he said, is not working to meet that end.
Hunting in Redding
Catania provided the selectmen an update about Redding’s current hunts.
“We have been actively managing a bow-hunt on town owned and controlled properties . . . in earnest since ’06,” he said. “We took 104 deer last year in what proved to be a very difficult season. Of those 104, 76 of them were does — far in excess of the average state take. Taking does by breeding age is how we limit population.”
Catania said there are three things those involved with the hunts keep in mind: the safety of everyone involved, limiting confrontations with users of the properties on which the hunts take place and effectively and safely killing deer.
Though admittedly anecdotal, Catania said “residents are reporting [seeing] less deer.”
The Redding Land Trust
Henry Merrick of the Redding Land Trust read a statement prepared by Guitar. Merrick said that because of deed restrictions and the trust’s mission statement — “to protect all plants and animals” — land the trust protects cannot be hunted upon.
“We have no control of hunting on land we own,” Merrick said. With that in mind, Merrick said, “there is a great deal of land available for the deer control program There is no shortage of open space available for deer control.”
Streit asked if the group could consider revising the signs to include “protecting humans, too.”
Merrick noted there’s several private organizations which own open space in Redding: The Nature Conservancy, Highstead, New Pond Farm, the Boy Scouts, Audobon and the country club.
Howard Kilpatrick, of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, updated the town about a survey which was sent out to Redding’s hunters, land owners and managers of open space. The purpose of the survey, he said, was to figure it the hunting season could be modified or adjusted to “make hunters as effective as possible.”
Kilpatrick said two-thirds of those residents who responded to the survey wanted to see fewer deer. He said 20 percent of private land owners currently allow hunting on their property, and of the 80 percent who do not, “more than half were willing to allow hunting or consider hunting if they could learn more about hunting.”
Douglas Hartline, Redding’s health director, said he was happy to see the town making efforts to reduce deer population, as deer are “part of the life cycle of the tick.”
“Lyme disease is the elephant in my office,” Hartline said. “It’s hard to watch a child come into my office who might have a crooked smile because he’s impacted by tick-borne illness.”
Mary Bailey, who identified herself as a Redding resident since 1992, said she had undiagnosed Lyme disease for 14 years before she was diagnosed in 2008.
“It adversely affected my life, my son’s life,” she said. “We have no pets. I have $20,000 in unreimbursed doctor’s fees. These are extraordinary circumstances. We have an epidemic here, which is destroying people’s lives. It’s so dangerous to live in this area.”
Toby Wells, a Redding resident who grew up in Weston, said he’s picked up a lot of ticks on his lawn.
People say “limiting the deer herds is contrary to nature’s way,” he said. “But things are very different today than when I was a kid. [Back then], when you saw a deer, it was an unusual sight. Now, they’re like squirrels. We’re very used to them — we have names for them.”
Wells said the town should be “trying to restore a balance that’s been disturbed by the development of this area” as well as a reduction of predators of deer.
Ketcham thanked the packed room for their comments and commitment to the issue.
“We want to do what’s right for Redding,” she said. “This is not the end of the discussion. This is the beginning.”