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On Deer Cull Issue-Panel Advised To Be Patient



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On Deer Cull Issue—

Panel Advised To Be Patient

By Kendra Bobowick

From several experts came the advice: both time and acceptance are critical. The Tick-Borne Disease Action Committee members heard that advice as the group again met last Wednesday to weigh solutions for reducing tick-related illnesses. Options may or may not mean a local deer cull.

From Director of Environmental Affairs in Wilton Pat Sesto came the advice regarding a decision to implement a controlled hunt. “We got our information out to the public; getting the public involved in what we were doing and why garnered support,” she said.

The hunt, which slowly gained access to additional privately owned properties each year was a “careful decision and needed the public on board for hunting open space. We went through paces,” she said.

Her comments often returned to public perception. “It can be slow and painful, but totally necessary — dealing with social aspects and building constituency,” Ms Sesto said.

Again this week members noted the social aspect of their challenge. Although the discussion soon turned to the motivations for inviting animal advocates to speak, member Maggie Shaw said, “It’s part of the social aspect that Pat Sesto talked about, so the public knows we’re taking that into consideration.”

During an interview this week Howard Kilpatrick, wildlife biologist with the Department of Environmental Protection’s Wildlife Division, who has published extensive studies on deer in relation to the environment, disease, and the urban environment, agreed, “Public support is key … but often, that takes time.” Just as the committee in Newtown and elsewhere becomes educated with through studies, expert speakers, literature, etc, so must the public, he said.

Why is there no magic bullet to solving the deer/tick/disease equation in relation to public health? He said, “There are so many people and opinions, it is difficult to get an agreement. No magic bullet exists,” he said, which is why the study of various methods of reduction for deer, ticks, and disease persist.

Also with people and opinions in mind, Ms Shaw said, “I think social issues are affecting our committee,” which are making progress difficult. She asked, “Can personal philosophies be left behind?” Noting that the group’s charge included a priority of public health and safety, she said, “If social issues prevent that, it’s clear it needs to be addressed in a respectful manner.”

Although mentioning social issues as a potential hurdle among group members, this week’s conversation centered on Ms Shaw’s invitation for committee member Mark Alexander to speak on behalf of an animal advocacy group, the Newtown Animal Center. Vice Chairman Michele McLeod questioned the suggestion. “Please be very specific, please be very accurate when you characterize what the local population is saying; it’s not saying animal rights action, it’s saying that killing [deer on a certain scale] won’t make a difference…”

“That’s your opinion,” Ms Shaw stated.

Mr Alexander soon rebutted, “I’ve been accused of coming on with an agenda …”

“No, Mark,” Ms Shaw began.

He spoke, “I think that’s exactly what I’ve been accused of.” He then stated, “I think there needs to be good reason for killing deer.” He noted no philosophical objection, saying again, “But there needs to be a reason.”

Doctor Peter Licht offered, “We don’t know if we’re having a hard time, we haven’t even begun debating. We haven’t even started. No one has formally said if they are for or against …”

After additional discussion Ms McLeod said, “I think we need to stop accusing and focus on our work.”

Member Kim Harrison bristled. “I think what Michele [McLeod] said clearly is directed at myself and Maggie [Shaw]. There is an expression, ‘If you live in a glass house …’”

“We’re not going to have that discussion,” Chairman Dr Robert Grossman warned.

“Great,” Ms Harrison said. “Great.”

“We’ll all listen and make decisions,” Dr Grossman continued.

“Fine,” Ms Harrison said.

“We don’t have to have a unanimous decision,” Dr Grossman said. Once the committee arrives at its recommendations, a deliberation that will begin next week as members note one another’s inclinations, a majority and minority report might be the group’s end result. Ultimately, the Board of Selectmen must take the recommendation and make its own decision, Dr Grossman said.

Looking at the various “science” and studies, reports, data, and speakers who have come before the committee, Ms Shaw asked, “Someone says this science or that science and one person says one thing and another person has other science and disagrees. How are we going to do this?”

Breaking the tension, Dr Grossman joked, “What? You think we’re better than Congress?” Members then discussed how best to prepare for their next meeting.

What is the answer?

Last week Ms Sesto spoke again about integrating a solution. Deer management is “a big fiscal challenge,” she said.

“Someday people will say, ‘We’re really tired of dealing with Lyme and will put up the money.’”

This week Dr Grossman had also mentioned the hurdle of finding enough funding to implement an effective solution. “Our decision may cost a lot of money and the town may say we don’t have the money. So that is the decision.”

Later that evening Selectman William Furrier spoke, “It sounds like you’ve got your hands full,” he began. Before he mentioned cash flow, he noted the social hurdles saying, “I agree that all opinions should be heard and brought out, a majority and minority argument.”

Questioning any plan’s feasibility in light of budget constraints, Dr Grossman asked how money would “come into play.”

Mr Furrier replied, “Money is tight, but we spend a lot of money that is not public safety related. Don’t worry about the money.”

“We’re going to recommend what we feel is best,” Dr Grossman said.

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