By Doug Dalena
STAMFORD -- A city-backed hunt that killed two deer in the Cove Island Wildlife Sanctuary ended a day early after animal rights activists complained.
The hunt started last week and would have continued through today, a city official said, but the city ended it Friday after opponents complained it was not publicized in advance and questioned the safety precautions.
"I was concerned that people might show up," Director of Operations Ben Barnes said. "I don't believe that they would interfere, that's against the law." Nevertheless, the additional security required made continuing it impractical, he said.
Barnes said the city consulted with two neighborhood groups before authorizing the hunt.
Opponents said that despite city assurances that park police closed the area for safety reasons, they walked into the park twice while the hunt was taking place.
On Tuesday morning, Cove resident Elizabeth Zazza walked with her dog to a back entrance to the wildlife sanctuary on a path behind Terry Connors Rink. Zazza said she stopped at the entrance, but her dog went into the sanctuary. Dogs are not allowed in the park.
Later, in the parking lot, a friend told her the hunt was taking place and she saw a park police officer guarding the main entrance.
"There was no deterrent there, anybody could have walked through there," Zazza said. "I don't know if he knows there's a back entrance through the woods."
Zazza, a supporter of Friends of Animals, a Darien animal rights group, then called the group's outreach coordinator, Nancy Rice.
Rice said she saw no police or anyone else warning people away when she walked into the sanctuary at about 6:45 a.m. Friday. She did not see the sole hunter, either, but Barnes told her he was there, Rice said.
Barnes said the hunter, Deputy Fire Marshal Ken Bixby, who has experience bow hunting in other deer population control efforts, was given a permit after wildlife sanctuary officials raised concerns about the high deer population in the 2-year-old preserve.
Barnes said the hunter used a tree stand and bait, and would have had a good view of anyone approaching. He also said park police were guarding the entrance to the sanctuary whenever the hunt was taking place.
Bixby killed a buck and a doe, said David Winston, president of the wildlife sanctuary's board. Bixby planned to give the deer meat away, Winston said.
After Friends of Animals complained to city officials, Barnes canceled today's hunt, even though officials had hoped to kill at least two more deer. Today is the last day of the state's bow hunting season for deer.
The increasing deer population is a by-product of the success of the bird sanctuary, Winston said. The city spent $500,000 to rebuild and replant the 13-acre preserve with native trees and bushes that provide food and habitat for birds and other small animals before it opened in 2006. Before that, the one-time dumping ground for old stumps and other plant waste from city cleanup efforts was overrun with invasive species that deer didn't eat, Winston said.
"As you increase the food supply, as we did by planting all these plants, they move in and they stay because the food is there," he said.
The restriction on dogs inside the sanctuary added to the attraction for the deer, he said.
Zazza said the changes, which she called an unnecessary human intervention, turned the deer into targets. She and Winston disagreed about how many deer frequented the property before and after it was turned into a bird preserve.
"Why wasn't it just left as it was?" she said.
Winston said he respects the believes of those who oppose all killing of animals, but noted plenty of people feel differently. He said the sanctuary can provide a balance of food and habitat for all kinds of species, from butterflies to birds and small land animals, as well as the two or three deer he says the land can support.
"They think of the deer as a singular issue in the environment," Winston said. "I tend to think of the environment as a much larger picture that involves all sorts of flora and fauna."
-- Staff Writer Doug Dalena can be reached at 964-2229