While supporting the work of the town's Agricultural Conservancy Trust, some residents neighboring conserved farm property in Little Compton are not so keen an extended hunting season for farmers …
While supporting the work of the town's Agricultural Conservancy Trust, some residents neighboring conserved farm property in Little Compton are not so keen an extended hunting season for farmers attempting to control the exploding white-tailed deer population here.
The extended season and DEM-issued "deer damage permit" available to farmers was brought up at a recent Little Compton Agricultural Conservancy Trust meeting during a discussion of the area's deer population, and what to do about it.
A Brownell Street woman whose land abuts Ag Trust farmed land said she first found out about the permit after an "environmental police officer came to my front door looking for the applicant," she said at the recent meeting. “I didn’t know anything about it ... When I looked into it, I found out it allows him to hunt in almost every beautiful warm month that someone might be outside enjoying their yard."
According to the DEM, hunters with a permit can shoot half an hour before sunrise and half an hour before sunset. Greenwood said she fears for her safety and the safety of those around her.
“I have dogs. I have alpacas, and alpacas look like deer. I also forage around my yard — this puts us at a risk of being shot at,” she said. “We want advance notice of when the hunter is active so that we know when not to go walking in the field ... we had to go to DEM for answers when the Ag Trust, who is the steward of our land, should be coming to us with answers.”
“This is about how the Ag Trust can be a good neighbor,” she continued. “Why aren’t neighbors notified?”
With this, Ag Trust Chairman Bill Richmond found fault.
“There’s a huge buffer between his hunting and your property lines, I think it’s about 800 feet,” he said. “We don’t think we are being inconsiderate by letting a farmer protect his crop ... you’re not in any danger.”
Greenwood, though, is adamant about what she believes is her right to be notified.
“I believe in the mission of the Ag Trust, 100 percent. I fully support farming. But I feel like as neighbors that were are just trying to ask simple safety questions and trying to figure out what the heck was going on. Do we have to wear orange in our backyards? Do I have to fear for the safety of my alpaca or my dogs who run into the field? Where are the policies?”
Neighborly concerns aside, many farmers, conservationists and hunters agree that regulated hunting may be the only way to curb the deer population, which is exloding and has become increasingly detrimental to local farming and agriculture.
In Westport, where much of the agricultural community has also attempted to quell the problem, farmer Dee Levanti echoed the same sentiment.
“We were losing thousands of dollars of crops,” she said of her agricultural claim, Ivory Silo Farm. “They’re not only getting through fencing, but they’re eating crops that they’ve never eaten before, like pepper plants and tomatoes.”
“Historically, wolves and mountain lions, bigger predators, have also hunted deer, and now those predators are gone. We naturally have this relationship and responsibility to hunt this animal. I think it is important to go into the woods and look around and notice the signs of over-browsing. Recognize that deer are eating so much that we are compromising a forest’s ability to regenerate. It’s not healthy for the deer themselves to exist in such dense populations. It is my understanding that if we don’t act, between disease and starvation, the deer are going to suffer.”
At a recent meeting, the Little Compton Town Council sought to solve the problem by agreeing to defer to the DEM, who will gauge the extent to the problem and offer possible solutions.
For now though, Dr. David Kalb, Supervising Wildlife Biologist at the DEM, said the state plans to provide an updated overview of the deer population that will start some time this winter.
“The best method is, by far, hunter harvest,” he said. “Hunters control deer numbers for free, do it ethically, and can be used to manage deer on private land with great success. Other options have been shown time and again that they are either or both expensive and ineffective over time.”
However, Kalb said there has long been a decline in hunting numbers throughout the state — so much so that the deer population has become affected.
Without a deer damage permit, possibilities for addressing that hunter shortage may be closer to home than expected. Eight-Rod Farm, right around where Tiverton’s Main Road turns into Little Compton’s West Main, offers 419 acres of public hunting area for those licensed. Mary Donovan Marsh and Simmons Mill provide almost 450 acres more.
“There are only a few areas where we have definitive evidence that the deer population is extremely high,” said Kalb. “There are always folks on both sides of the deer population density issue — some would like to see more on the landscape and some that feel there are too many. Our pending deer population estimate should provide us up to date data to help define some other areas if they exist.”