Opponents of the Blue Hills deer hunt delivered a petition to Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday asking his administration to rethink the policy, which is meant to manage what the state says is an overpopulation of deer.
Members of the Friends of Blue Hills Deer, a group that disagrees with the state-sanctioned hunt, collected more than 1,000 signatures from residents and hikers at Blue Hills for the petition. They argue that estimates of the deer population are iinaccurate.
“The Blue Hills reservation, designed by the great landscape architect Charles Eliot, was created as a sanctuary mainly for people in the city to have a place to go that was peaceful,” said Cynthia Haigh, a member of the organization. “Certainly hunting was not part of this and he would be rolling in his grave if he knew this would be created into a killing field.”
This year’s four-day hunt — the first half of which occurred on Nov. 29 and 30, and the second half planned for Tuesday and Wednesday — is the second iteration of a multi-year deer management plan that was first implemented in 2015.
Prior to that year, legal hunting had been completely prohibited in Blue Hills for more than 100 years. The hunt is now restricted to licensed hunters selected through a random lottery. The limited use of archery hunting also began this year, allowing for a maximum of 132 hunters (117 shotgun hunters and 15 archery hunters).
The state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), in partnership with the Department of Fish and Game (DFG), the Massachusetts Environmental Police (MEP) and the Massachusetts State Police approved the 2016 management plan because deer overpopulation is “negatively impacting forests, water resources, or plant growth on department owned land,” officials said.
“The negative impacts of too many deer within the Blue Hills State Reservation remains of the utmost concern to the Department of Conservation and Recreation,” said DCR Commissioner Leo Roy in a statement. “It is important that we enable the forest and plant species to not only regenerate, but to thrive. In doing so, the forest will be able to continue to support all kinds of wildlife, and will remain an excellent place where people far and wide will be able to enjoy and observe nature within the heart of an urban setting.”
But Haigh and other opponents believe the concern is unfounded because there aren’t as many deer as the DCR is saying.
“This whole plan is fatally flawed, there’s no scientific survey that has even been done before this hunt started,” Haigh said. “They just decided to do it. The last population survey was in 2013.”
According to the state’s 2016 Deer Management Plan, DCR and MassWildlife did work together to conduct a deer population survey in 2013 and using distance sampling, MassWildlife estimated that there were about 85 deer per square mile of deer habitat within the Blue Hills reservation. The DCR wants to reduce the deer population closer to 6 to 18 deer per square mile.
“You would think after the worst winter on record of 2015 they would have done another one,” Haigh said.
She also raised concerns over the public’s inability to comment or add input on the hunt. Though there were public hearings, she said that it was obvious that the officials made up their minds before listening to local concerns. At one hearing this past summer, she said, about 50 people spoke out against the hunt and only two in favor.
“One man [who testified] lives in several acres of land bordering Blue Hills. He was a hunter and used to notice that the deer were there because his plants would get eaten, he’d see droppings on his property,” Haigh said.” He said that hasn’t been the case in several years.”
In addition to two public meetings, the DCR accepted written comments of the 2016 Blue Hills Deer Management Plan through August 5, 2016, and announced the deer hunt to the public on October 6, 2016.
Through a forum on the bow hunting community site Bowsite.com, hunters posted about the first days of this year’s Blue Hills hunt. One user said that after being on the grounds for a few hours, “There has not been a single shotgun report. I think the deer population in here has been fantastically over estimated.”
Others, though, said online that they saw many deer and that those hunters who didn’t were “most likely not where the deer live.” Last year, 64 deer were killed during the four-day hunt.
“We are demanding that an unbiased scientific survey be done before any other hunt goes on,” Haigh said.
When reached for comment, a communications director for Baker’s office referred to Troy Wall, DCR spokesman.
“With the current overabundance of deer within the Blue Hills State Reservation, the health of the forest is of the utmost concern to the Department of Conservation and Recreation,” Wall said in an email. “By continuing safe, controlled deer hunts at the Blue Hills State Reservation, the agency will be able to further reduce the deer population to a sustainable level that will allow the forest to regenerate and support the plant and wildlife that relies on the region’s diversity.”