Debate continues over Darien's possible deer overpopulation
Whether Darien has a deer overpopulation problem all depends on who you ask.
Darien, and Fairfield County in general, has one of the highest deer populations per capita in the state, Darien Deer Management Committee Chairman Kent Haydock said. Haydock blames the large population on the woodland borders prevalent in communities like Darien.
The Deer Management Committee was formed in 1997 in response to a public outcry about the damage the deer were doing to private property, as well as the high rate of Lyme disease from infected ticks. Committee members created a proposal for homeowners to allow registered bow hunters to hunt deer on their property.
"We went from about two deer a year to about 87 deer a year in 2002," Haydock said.
Haydock added that 2002 seems to be the peak year for the number of deer killed during the hunting season.
In addition to encouraging bow hunting, Haydock has helped to organize two controlled hunts that occurred on public land. Controlled hunts are short and the meat from any deer is donated to local shelters, Haydock said.
According to Haydock, there's limited opposition to deer hunting, and he believes opponents are misinformed about alternative management methods.
"People think there are other ways to cull herds," Haydock said. "Contraception was costly and ineffective and there are no U.S. approved contraceptive agents."
In a survey conducted by the Darien Deer Management Committee in Darien's Tokeneke area, less than 10 percent of the individuals surveyed were against hunting," Haydock said.
An excessively large deer herd can also pose a threat to the local ecosystem.
A study done by Charles J. Alsheimer on wildlifeseeds.com said deer can eat one and one half to two tons of forage per year.
"They prefer American species like oak, hickory and maple which limits the regeneration of those species," Haydock said.
The committee is also concerned with a possible drain on the economy.
According to a release about a recent study done in Fairfield county by Peter S. Arno and Deborah Viola of New York Medical College, overpopulation of deer can result in millions of dollars being spent controlling the herds. The release says Darien residents pay as much $6.4 million, or $1,037 per household, annually to manage deer herds.
However, advocates against the use of controlled hunts say there is no quantifying data to prove Darien has an excessive number of deer.
Priscilla Feral, president of Friends of Animals, does not believe that controlled hunts are necessary because Darien is not over populated by deer.
"To continue to say there are too many deer is really a lot of nonsense," Feral said.
Feral believes the deer should be left alone because eliminating the deer will not eliminate the risk of contracting Lyme disease. "If you reallocate the deer, you'll end up with another mammalian host for the ticks," Feral said.
Other tick hosts could include dogs, cats and birds, Feral said. Feral added that the beginning of the hunting season results in more collisions with deer because they are trying to run away.
When asked if the deer were a public nuisance, Feral said the real nuisance were the hunters.
"The deer are not a nuisance to anyone," Feral said. "We need to learn to control ourselves."
Feral's solution for dealing with any deer in Darien was simply to leave them alone. She did not feel that controlled hunts were necessary, or using any form of contraceptive.
Lyme disease is transmitted by the bite of an infected black-legged tick, according to the Center for Disease Control website. Symptoms of Lyme disease include fever, headache, fatigue and skin rash. If caught early, most cases of Lyme disease can be successfully treated with a few weeks of antibiotics.
The CDC website says there were 2,738 confirmed cases of Lyme disease in Connecticut in 2008. Connecticut had about 10 percent of the total confirmed cases nationwide.