Thursday, August 26, 2010

CONNECTICUT NEWS: Economic Cost of Deer in Fairfield County

To be fair, the authors of the study could have looked at the economic benefits of deer as well. Regardless, the figures are pretty startling. -TR

Greenwich is paying a hefty bill for Bambi and his friends as they wreak havoc throughout the town and its neighboring towns, said a report that studied the adverse economic impact of deer on Fairfield County.

According to the "Economic Impact of Deer Overpopulation in Fairfield County, CT" report, the total dollar figure for damage caused by deer for Greenwich is $15.1 million in 2008, just behind Fairfield that tops the list at nearly $17 million.

The single biggest category of damage is environment and landscaping where Greenwich sustained $12.6 million in damage. That was followed by tick control at $2.1 million, tick-borne Lyme disease at $319,000 and motor vehicle damage at $131,000.

While Greenwich ranked near the top in total dollars, the cost per capita was $255, 16th lowest out of the 23 municipalities studied. Sherman was the highest at $524 with Easton just in behind it at $520 per person.

The study was prepared by two staff members at the New York Medical College and commissioned by the Fairfield County Municipal Deer Management Alliance, the Connecticut Coalition to End Lyme Disease, and the Connecticut Audubon Society. The latter three groups have advocated tougher deer-management policies.

Karen Dixon, director of Greenwich Audubon Center, said she couldn't comment on the economic impacts because the center did not participate in the study. But she said the center has a deer management plan that was implemented seven years ago to preserve habitat being eaten by deer.

"Deer really love to eat trees. Basically they stripped all the ground cover, stripped away all the shrubs," she said. Some bird species that nested at ground level were losing their habitat.

The number of deer killed by bow hunters from the Greenwich Sportsman and Land Owners Alliance has dropped from 30 taken during the first season of 2003-2004 to seven last year. The hunts occur on the center's four wildlife sanctuaries: Gimble, Fairchild, Caldwell and the main sanctuary all in northwest Greenwich.

The season begins in September and ends Jan. 30.

Dixon said it has been a success as plants eaten by deer were enjoying a resurgence, like the maple leaf viburnum, a plant that provides nesting and also a cover for birds and small mammals seeking to escape their predators.

Adopting the policy wasn't easy, said Dixon, as she acknowledged some people have been opposed to it.

"We have to make management decision that are sometimes hard to make and not ones we want to ideally make," she said. "There are people out there who don't agree with us. We certainly respect their opinion."

In 2005, the town began its own deer kill and hired professional hunters. They killed 80 deer that first season.

In a story in Greenwich Time last year prior to the 2009 hunting season, Conservation Director Denise Savageau said the program has worked but the deer levels were still too high, with deer reaching levels of 60 per square mile instead of the preferred 10 per square mile.

Savageau could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

If deer populations can be reduced to 10 to 12 per square mile, incidents of Lyme disease virtually disappear because deer tick colonies that carry the disease collapse, according to state researchers.

Other town's also support up to five times as many deer per square mile.

Patricia Sesto, director of environmental affairs for the town of Wilton, said Tuesday that even though the town has had a hunting system for eight years, there are still as many as 70 deer per square mile there.

She said the study means that next year officials can show town councils and selectmen throughout the region the costs residents pay out of pocket and the potential benefits of inviting sharpshooters, such as those who have worked in Greenwich, to increase the number of deer killed.

"We need to be harvesting 300 a year," said Sesto, questioning whether recreational deer hunting is capable of reducing deer populations to the point where the spread of Lyme disease can be halted.

The most productive year for hunters in Wilton resulted in 150 dead deer, but last year the harvest was about 45. Nearby towns, including Redding and Ridgefield, had much better results, she said.

She said that while deer contraception treatments are expensive, sharp-shooting programs, whether bow and arrow or rifle, are maturing and make more sense.

The public policy debate, however, will be persuading residents to pay new fees for helping eradicate local deer herds, by showing how much they can save in shrubbery, medical costs and auto repair bills.

"The transition between me writing a check for what I choose and a town surcharge, could require a large change in the social mindset and hopefully, this economic study can show that if you spend a fraction of the money, you can get major savings," Sesto said.

"Fairfield County municipalities still do not have a good grasp of either the prevalence of Lyme or its economic consequences to society, as evidenced by their failure to enact aggressive deer management policies," says researcher Deborah Viola of the NYMC, the co-author of the study.

Connecticut has the highest rate of Lyme disease in the nation.

Stephen R. Patton, director of landscape programs at the Nature Conservancy, said the study is the first of its kind to show the economic impact of deer overpopulation.

"This study demonstrates the broader need for a comprehensive effort, managed by the Department of Environmental Protection, to bring deer numbers down to levels that is healthy for our woodlands and for people."

Source: Greenwich Time

Monday, August 23, 2010

MASSACHUSETTS NEWS: Lyme Disease Cases Tick Upwards

Lyme disease, the tick-borne ailment once primarily a scourge of the Cape and Islands, is now rampant in swaths of Massachusetts where locally acquired cases were rare a decade ago.

In Middlesex, Norfolk, and Worcester counties, the number of patients diagnosed with the bacterial disease surged more than fourfold between 2000 and 2009, according to figures the state Department of Public Health provided to the Globe.

The increase, which is fueling a statewide increase in reports of symptoms, is evident in the offices of infectious disease specialists and primary care doctors in places like Framingham and Natick, where Lyme disease diagnoses 10 or 15 years ago were largely restricted to people who had visited Cape Cod.

“Now,’’ said Dr. Richard Ellison, hospital epidemiologist at UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester, “they’re living in Charlton, they’re living in Northborough, they’re living in Westborough. And they’re not traveling to the Cape.’’

The disease is on the move, special ists said, because the deer population is expanding and human developments are encroaching on natural habitats. Hundreds of ticks can hitch a ride on a single deer. And a lone female tick can lay 2,000 — or more — eggs.

The result: Human and tick have increasing opportunity to come into contact, spreading an illness that often manifests with flulike symptoms but in some cases causes serious cardiac and neurologic complications.

It is an illustration, too, of the difficulty containing infectious diseases, especially those carried by tiny insects. The young ticks that tend to attach themselves to humans are roughly the size of a poppy seed and hard to detect. Their favorite hiding spots are behind knees, in armpits, and in the groin area.

“This has been an accident waiting to happen,’’ said Dr. Thomas Treadwell, director of the infectious disease clinic at MetroWest Medical Center in Framingham. “If you don’t have the deer, you don’t have the tick. And if you don’t have the tick, you don’t have the disease. But we now have the perfect habitat here.’’

Doctors who treat patients and specialists who track ticks said they’re convinced the rise in cases — last year, there were 4,042 statewide, compared with 1,194 in 2000 — reflects a genuine increase in illness and not simply better diagnosis or recordkeeping. The increase is too large to be explained by better surveillance, specialists said: In Middlesex County, for example, there were 136 cases in 2000, and by 2008, diagnoses had soared to 767.

Source: Boston Globe

RHODE ISLAND NEWS: No Deer Hunt on Block Island

Reining in the deer herd on Block Island might be a bit more difficult for the Deer Task Force as it learned this week that the Land Trust will not open its lands to hunting.

At the task force meeting Tuesday evening, Chair Mary Sue Record said she had not yet received any written refusal, but she understood the conservation groups had met to set criteria for allowing a hunt on their properties, and the Land Trust determined none of its lands met that criteria. There were also concerns about liability.

With 43 percent of the island held by conservation groups, task force member Chris Blane said, “You’re at a standstill no matter what you do,” if conservation lands are not opened.

He suggested the task force “get a seat at the table” through joining conservation boards.

As to the liability factor, Blane suggested it could be the result of a current case in Newport, in which a fall from the cliff walk is going to trial despite the state’s law limiting liability of private owners who allow recreational use of their lands. The case is a test of this law, he said.

Record will request a formal response from the Land Trust.

Source: Block Island Times

CALIFORNIA NEWS: Black-tailed Deer in Decline Since 1989

The distinctive splayed antlers of black-tailed deer bucks have become an increasingly rare sight in California, particularly if you are accustomed to spotting the appendages through a rifle scope.

The California deer population has plummeted over the past two decades - by 46 percent - if the yearly count of bucks killed by hunters is a proper measure.

A team of scientists led by the California Department of Fish and Game is fanning out across the rugged mountains of Mendocino, Glenn and Lake counties in an attempt to figure out just what is going on.

"The deer population harvest has been steadily declining," said David Casady, an associate wildlife biologist for the Department of Fish and Game. "One of the things we're studying is whether the population has decreased or just the harvest. Most likely it's the population that has decreased and the harvest is just tracking that."

The Columbian black-tailed deer, or Odocoileus hemionus columbianus, is the smallest, darkest and most common of the three deer species that are prevalent in California, with bucks weighing up to 200 pounds and does topping out at 140 pounds. The other two most abundant deer species in the state are the California mule deer and the Rocky Mountain mule deer.

Black-tailed deer, combined with mule deer, inhabit about 75 percent of California's wildlands. They thrive on the edges of forests, where they can find the underbrush and grasslands they prefer and still find places to hide from predators.

Antlers, venison sought

The males grow multipronged antlers, which, along with the promise of venison, is a primary reason they are the state's most popular game mammal.

The number of bucks taken by hunters in California dropped from 27,846 in 1989 to 14,895 in 2009, according to Fish and Game statistics. That was out of 164,753 hunters who pursued deer in 2009.

The three-year study, which is being done in coordination with UC Davis, is documenting habitat changes, vegetation, predation, land use patterns and other factors that might affect black-tailed deer. It is focusing on the mountains east of Covelo (Mendocino County) because that area has historically had some of the best deer habitat in the state and has, for the most part, been unaffected by human encroachment.

57% drop in area

The area has nevertheless seen one of the biggest declines, from 3,013 deer harvested in 1989 to 1,297 in 2009, a 57 percent drop, according to state statistics. The state estimated that 38,037 people hunted deer in the area in 2009.

Heiko Wittmer, a UC Davis adjunct professor and senior lecturer in conservation and ecological restoration at New Zealand's Victoria University of Wellington, said he and several doctoral students began capturing deer last year and equipping them with collars and tags with radio and global positioning satellite technology.

So far, he said, 40 fawns have had their ears tagged and 26 adults have had collars placed around their necks.

The equipment alerts trackers if four or more hours pass without any movement, an indication that the animal has died. The researchers then use an antenna to find the animal. The goal is to perform necropsies within 24 hours to determine the cause of death and use DNA analysis to determine what, if any, predator was involved.

"We are trying to estimate survival rates for fawns and for adults," Wittmer said. "Once we have that information, we can accurately measure death and birth rates and see if all of that together would result in a decreasing population."

Cougars, bobcats, black bears and coyotes are known to feed on deer. Remote cameras are being used to monitor coyotes and other predators, but only the mountain lion is known to have taken down a full-grown deer. That's why researchers have also collared a female mountain lion. They are planning to collar and track five additional mountain lions during the study, which is funded through June 2012, Wittmer said.

"One neat aspect of this study is that we are simultaneously looking at predators and prey," Wittmer said. "There is a lot of debate right now about whether the lion population is too high."

Hunting groups have claimed there are too many predators because of harvest restrictions and the elimination, albeit a long time ago, of bounties on mountain lions and coyotes.

Another theory, espoused by a fair number of biologists, is that the brush, grasses and foliage that deer feed upon are being choked out by nonnative weeds. The lack of food, the hypothesis goes, is being exacerbated by California's vigorous suppression of wildfires, which historically served to renew the state's grasslands and forests.

Forces of nature possible

The plummeting deer population could also be the result of a combination of factors, Casady admitted, including the tendency of hunters to fill with lead any buck with big antlers that they spot. Could it be that only the ugliest, nerdiest bucks are left and the does are simply turned off?

"It doesn't take many males to make sure all the females are bred," Casady said. "If the population was really that bad off, I think they would still breed with the ugly ones."

It may turn out in the end, Wittmer said, that the declining deer population is simply a reflection of what is normal in a balanced ecosystem.

"Maybe," he said, "if we want to have both healthy deer populations and healthy predator populations, then these densities are more natural."

The decline of black-tailed deer

-- Hunters killed 27,846 black-tailed deer in California in 1989 compared with 14,895 in 2009, a 46 percent decline.

-- Hunters killed 3,013 black-tailed deer in the study area in the forested mountains of Mendocino, Glenn and Lake counties in 1989 compared with 1,297 in 2009, a 57 percent decline.

-- Deer, which inhabit 75 percent of California's wildlands, are the most popular game animal in the state, attracting as many as 200,000 hunters a year.

-- Researchers have tagged 40 fawns and placed radio collars equipped with global positioning technology on 26 adult deer.

-- Cougars, bobcats, black bears and coyotes are known to prey on black-tailed deer and all four killed or scavenged fawns during the study, but the mountain lion is the only predator known to have taken down a full-grown deer.

-- A female mountain lion has been fitted with a satellite GPS collar and five others will be collared during the study, which is expected to continue through June 2012.

Source: SF Chronicle