Darien, Connecticut — When does the heavenly peace of southwestern Connecticut’s largest nature preserve turn into hell on earth?

It’s happening now, under the control of the wealthiest nature conservation group in the United States.

On the 17th, 18th, 19th, 29th, and 30th of November, and again on the 1st, 2nd, 6th, and 7th of December, the Nature Conservancy will host an exclusive trophy hunt, transforming Devil’s Den Nature Preserve into a hell for the deer who consider its winding trails and gentle hills their home.

Devil’s Den director Stephen Patton has welcomed the hunters into the 1,746-acre preserve. Indeed, it was deer-hunting advocacy that led to Patton’s recent appointment to chair a controversial deer management committee in the nearby town of Weston, Connecticut.

It’s not the first time the Nature Conservancy has hosted hunts. The group claims shooting is necessary because the high deer population is having an adverse impact on flora and fauna in the preserve. Yet other methods exist for protecting sensitive areas from heavy browsing. For example, notes Priscilla Feral, president of Darien-based Friends of Animals, properly designed and constructed exclosure fencing can inconspicuously protect especially sensitive plants inside the preserve.

“The Nature Conservancy claims hunters can reduce the high number of deer in Devil’s Den,” said Feral. “Steve Patton and the government biologists who promote the yearly shoot must know, however, that violent population control schemes fail. Killing deer now only contributes to greater survivorship of fawns in the spring, and the usual result is a stimulation of the deer population to even higher numbers.”

Feral adds, “The Nature Conservancy cites the high number of deer hit by cars in the region as an excuse to turn this violence into an annual event. But by stimulating a younger, less experienced population, these hunts may well increase the number of road accidents each autumn.”

“When Steve Patton of Devil’s Den tells us that the bodies of the deer will be donated to food pantries, that doesn’t make this plan any more palatable,” adds Feral. “Eating deer can pose serious risks to human health. The hunters are using one vulnerable group — the poor — as an excuse to harm another vulnerable group — the deer. Then they get to show off the heads. These hunters aren’t Connecticut’s heroes. They are Connecticut’s bullies.”

Friends of Animals is an international animal advocacy organization with 200,000 members.