Wednesday, June 04, 2008

MASSACHUSETTS NEWS: Deer in the Suburbs

Joanne Whooten knew deer had been near her Middleboro home this past winter by looking at the shrubs on her front lawn.

“The deer came and they ate them,” said Whooten, 46, a Purchade Street resident. “They ate the buds right off of them.”

The deer population in southeastern Massachusetts has more than doubled in the past decade, wildlife officials say, and it is showing up in nibbled shrubs, chewed up vegetable gardens and more close calls and collisions for motorists.

“We get it all the time,” said Philip Wyman, owner of Wyman’s Nursery in Hanson.
“People come in with the branch of a shrub that’s obviously been eaten by a deer,” he said. “They say, ‘I don’t have deer in my yard. I don’t live in the woods.’ But that’s what it is.”

The goal of the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife is a deer population of 15 to 20 deer per square mile in Bristol and Plymouth counties. But estimates from the 2007 hunting season place the area’s deer population at between 20 and 25 deer per square mile, with some areas as high as 30 per square mile. Brockton, Abington, Hanover, Whitman, Rockland, Taunton and Norton are all on the higher end of that range, said Jason Zimmer, southeast district supervisor for the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.

Overall, deer populations are down from the all-time highs reached in 2005, but development, a declining number of hunters and more restrictions on people who do hunt are keeping the populations up.

“It’s been getting much worse,” Wyman said. “People around here are seeing a lot more deer.”

In some other parts of the state, hunting has kept the deer population in check. But residential development in this region has reduced wooded areas, where hunting is easier and more efficient.

Additionally, several towns have enacted recent firearm laws that have further restricted hunting.

In 2006, Brockton city councilors tabled a proposed ordinance that would have banned bow hunting, one of the primary ways to manage the deer population.

“It’s sometimes more trouble than it’s worth to hunt around here, and to me, it’s a straight line between that and the deer problem,” said William Hart, Pembroke’s animal control officer and an avid hunter.

Nature may also be playing a role this time of year. May and June are fawn season, when the doe population is especially active.

Without a revival of hunting in southeastern Massachusetts, the deer population will likely remain high, wildlife officials said.

The Division of Fisheries and Wildlife will present its recommendations next month to the Fish and Game Board, which will allocate hunting permits for the 2008 season.
State wildlife officials do not expect drastic changes from last year, when 9,300 antlerless-deer permits were issued.

Meanwhile, doctors treating suspected cases of Lyme disease are also on the lookout for other tick-borne diseases — babesiosis and anaplasmosis — that are on the rise as the local deer population increases.

“When we try to inform doctors about tick-borne diseases, we mention all three,” said Dr. Bela Matyas, medical director of epidemiology for the state Department of Public Health.


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