Greenwich Time

Published: Tuesday, September 14, 2010

by Priscilla Feral

Each year, deer hunters get support for their violent hobby from Connecticut’s Department of Environmental Protection — the agency that profits from hunter licensing and federal excise taxes on weapons and ammunition.

Nevertheless, and to the chagrin of the Fairfield County Municipal Deer Management Alliance, hunting is losing its appeal in our state — mirroring a countrywide trend that has seen the hunting community wane for two or more decades.

Fewer than one percent of Connecticut residents hunt. According to the National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, 12.5 million U.S. residents purchased hunting licenses in 2006 — a decline of 10 percent from 1996. In contrast, 71 million U.S. residents, or 31 percent, were counted as wildlife-watchers — folks who observe and photograph birds and other free-living beings.

Without new generations becoming Nimrod’s devotees, state agencies will be forced to talk about more than the interests of a minority who chase deer with bows and rifles. But officials are invested in careers of management and control. How will they keep encouraging the public interest in violently targeting deer?

As it happens, Nimrod appears not only as a hunter in the biblical story, but is also traditionally considered a leading builder of the Tower of Babel — an edifice representing the confounding of everyone’s speech. And the speech surrounding deerstalking promotions is becoming more confounded by the year.

Since it’s no longer widely acceptable to call hunting recreation, hunters invent social benefits to excuse the rampages. We hear about the need to defend wildflowers from over-browsing. We hear about heading off collisions between automobiles and deer. We’re told hunters feed the hungry. We hear that hunters protect our communities from Lyme disease.

The Fairfield County Municipal Deer Management Alliance recently released its “Economic Impact of Deer Overpopulation in Fairfield County,” a report geared to soften resistance to deer killings on private property. The report empowers residents to blame deer for the above-mentioned perils. Officials can use the study to buttress costly notions that paying new fees to shoot deer will ensure public safety and save us all money on landscaping, medical costs, and auto-repair needs. But the data is derived from a 2003 survey of residents in Bernards Township, N.J., as an editorial on Sept. 3 in Greenwich Time and The Advocate pointed out.

If we’re keeping score of overpopulation, let’s begin with honesty and accuracy: We humans comprise the one species on Earth whose population is truly out of control — overriding natural mechanisms that keep living populations in check. We fail to acknowledge how our reckless overdevelopment and penchant for procreation directly impacts and degrades our relationship with deer and other free-living animals, and how that diminishes us as a culture.

On top of that, hunting drives a phenomenon that’s been tagged “evolution in reverse” — making the smaller and weaker deer more likely to survive. And it can cause deer populations to increase in a cyclical reaction to us. The more you hunt, the more deer you get.

In contrast, nature itself works to balance deer herds according to available food, territory, the health of carnivorous animals, and winter weather, which restrict food and range. Numerous studies over the years have shown that limits to food and sheltering foliage causes animal populations to limit themselves; but it doesn’t take scientific studies to make the point. Most people with common sense know this.

Deer do not cause Lyme disease. Black-legged ticks carry the disease when immature, on smaller mammals and birds. Our dogs can also carry the ticks (and wiping out deer would make the dogs even more attractive candidates for ticks). Vigilant checks for ticks on the body and prompt removal, especially in summer and early autumn, are important for preventing the disease.

Friends of Animals studied the matter of cars hitting deer. We found evidence that hunting exacerbates car accidents, as it can frighten deer out of their normal meanderings and into unfamiliar terrain and roadways. Of some 1.5 million reports of U.S. drivers hitting deer every year, about half of these accidents occur in October, November, and December. Hunters will attribute this to deer being sexually active, but these are the months when hunters themselves are active. The claim that hunting reduces car accidents is not solid, and we have prevention techniques that do work, such as reflectors combined with regular road maintenance and speed limit reductions.

Nature is being managed to death. It’s time for communities to call for ceasefires, and reverse a trend that’s bad for all of us — humans and nonhumans alike.

Priscilla Feral is president of Darien-based Friends of Animals.