Priscilla Feral’s Comments Before Westport, Connecticut’s Environment, Health & Human Services, and Public Protection Committees

September 22, 2010, 8 pm: Westport, Connecticut Town Hall Auditorium

Good evening to everyone here. I am Priscilla Feral, president of Darien-based Friends of Animals, an international animal-advocacy group. Since 1957, we have been working to enlighten our community to the environmental, ethical, and psychological benefits of living in respectful harmony with the rest of the biocommunity of which we’re all a part.

We at Friends of Animals acknowledge the inherent value of deer in Fairfield County, as well as their participation in the ecology. This means transcending the reliance on hunting and other forms of human management and control over deer populations.

Rather than talk up perceived problems, then begin a cycle of expense, force, and harm, as many other communities have done, we believe Westport can and should commit to the sensible and responsible approach. This would involve understanding the natural tendency of deer to balance their numbers. If tension related to deer is a problem for Westport, the best answers begin by acknowledging that hunting contributes to the imbalance.

Hunting deer permits a community to say we’re “doing” something — true. But it’s not the enlightened thing.

Westport’s Committees have been told that hunting is a viable means to control the deer population. Other methods, such as birth control and relocation, are said to be costly and ineffective. In fact, birth control, relocation and hunting are all costly, ineffective, and — thankfully — unecessary.

The call to manage is historically a product of practices that manipulate deer for the benefit of shooters who want targets. They are part of the problem, not the cure. As for bow-hunted deer, they have been seen bleeding with arrows stuck in their flesh for two miles before the arrow’s owner can climb down from a tree stand and catch up and finally cut the panicked animal’s neck. When New Canaan allowed bow-hunting, Friends of Animals took telephone calls from shocked residents with bleeding deer struggling on their lawns.

No wonder hunting is losing its appeal in our state — mirroring a country-wide trend that has seen the hunting community wane for two or more decades.

Follow the money to understand why such a hobby gets backing from Connecticut’s Department of Environmental Protection. The agency benefits from hunter licensing fees and federal excise taxes on weapons and ammunition.

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 identify ourselves as people who love to observe and photograph birds and other free-living beings.

Since it’s no longer widely acceptable to call hunting recreation, hunters invent social benefits to justify deer control. 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 that accepts those justifications, and sets out to soften resistance to deer killings on private property. 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, as an editorial on Sept. 3 in the Greenwich Time and The Advocate pointed out, comes from a 2003 survey of residents in Bernards Township, New Jersey. When it comes to matters involving deer, it would appear that Fairfield County is on a result-oriented mission rather than a quest for enlightened leadership. Let’s look at biological and ecological realities.

Human control of deer, elk and other animals 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. Their biology answers our assaults. As so it is that the more deer we hunt, the more deer we get.

In contrast, nature itself works to balance deer herds according to available food, territory, the health of carnivorous animals such as coyotes, 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.

Doing the right thing takes patience and education, and over time, this will make Westport a better community. We are ready to work with Westport on this.

You just heard from Laura Simon of the Humane Society of the U.S. that Westport should put deer on birth control. The HSUS hold the permit to use an experimental contraceptive, known as PZP, on deer and other animals. This substance often does “work” in the sense of preventing pregnancy, but it has been shown to prolong animals’ lives (because they do not experience the natural stress of reproduction), thus counteracting the effect of population reduction.

Moreover, claims that the drug constitutes humane and enlightened treatment are dubious at best. PZP alters natural interactions among the deer, changing their capacity to procreate and thus evolve. Post mortems of deer used in PZP experiments have shown severe abscesses at the site of the darts, and shown that the deer suffer from pelvic inflammatory disease induced by the substance. It is also a difficult feat to apprehend the deer and continue the doses.

Before thanking you for my time today, I’d like to mention that I grew up in Westport. I am not an impediment to Wesport’s hopes and best aspirations; rather, I and the organization I represent have come here today to ensure that Wesport — a holdout against ill-considered reactions against animals — continues on an ecologically and ethically responsible course.

All around us, nature is being managed to death, with malls and freeways taking its place. Animals are being driven from the land on which they were born and concentrated into smaller areas and blamed for a laundry list of ills they never created. It’s time for communities to call for ceasefires, and reverse a trend that’s bad for all of us. Community leaders should deliberate on the facts, seek and nourish what’s best in our community, and keep recreational and controlled hunting, deer contraception and sharpshooting out of Westport.

Thank you for granting me time to address you this evening.

Priscilla Feral
Friends of Animals