For the first time in more than 100 years, the state will allow deer hunting in the Blue Hills Reservation in an effort to control the animal’s population, which has grown out of control.
For four days in November and December, hunters will be allowed to roam 3,000 acres on the northern part of the 7,000-acre reservation, the state announced Wednesday.
A controlled hunt has been talked about for years as a remedy for a deer population that has spread Lyme disease and other tick-borne illness, and created other problems. After considering other measures such as contraception, trapping, and sterilization, which were deemed ineffective, state officials held three public hearings on a limited deer hunt.
The state has not permitted hunting in the Blue Hills since before it became a reservation in 1893, said Matthew Sisk, deputy commissioner of the state Department of Conservation and Recreation.
Permits for the controlled hunt, which is limited to shotguns, will be awarded in a lottery, and hunting will take place on Nov. 30, Dec. 1, Dec. 7, and Dec. 8. The state will randomly select 98 licensed hunters for each two-day session. The area south of Interstate 93 will be closed to hunters.
The deer population, which has reached at least 85 deer per square mile of forest habitat, is destroying vegetation, throwing off the forest ecosystem, and contributing to fire hazards, state officials said. A healthy level is considered to be 6 to 18 deer per square mile.
“This isn’t something we did lightly,” said state Senator Brian A. Joyce, Democrat of Milton, who sponsored a measure included in an environmental bond bill that called on the state to study ways to control the deer population in the Blue Hills. “We have a bit of an epidemic of Lyme disease and something has to be done.”
Public feedback resulted in the state’s decision to reduce the number of hunting permits for each two-day session from 120 to 98, limit the sanctioned hunting area, and use existing trails and roads for boundaries, state officials said. Each hunter will be limited to no more than four white-tailed deer, two with antlers and two without.
Though state officials said public input was generally positive, Sisk said some people at the hearings said they did not like hunting, and were concerned about safety.
There are no plans to allow hunting in the reservation on a regular basis, Joyce said. But Sisk noted that it is possible there could be more controlled hunts in the future.
People who frequent the reservation have known for at least 10 years that something needed to be done to limit the number of deer, but they could not decide on a solution.
After a lot of “soul searching,” the Friends of the Blue Hills group, whose members include vegetarians who would not normally support a deer hunt, came around, said Judy Lehrer Jacobs, executive director.
“We did not want to go toward a deer hunt,” Jacobs said. “If you look at the research, there isn’t any feasible alternative.”
The group did not take a position on the specifics of the hunt or the timing, but came to believe that a controlled hunt would allow vegetation to come back, which supports the forest ecosystem.
“We support a controlled hunt as a way of controlling the deer population because of the damage they’re doing to the forest and the forest inhabitants,” Jacobs said.
The deer eat native plants, while invasive species flourish, she said. The loss of vegetation means there are fewer insects, which birds feed to their young.
The state has allowed hunting in the state’s Quabbin Reservoir near Belchertown, where vegetation has returned, Sisk said. When deer wipe out the vegetation on the ground, wildfires can spread more quickly.
Allowing a controlled hunt may also make the area less attractive to people who have been hunting illegally and trespassing on private property to sneak onto the reservation, Sisk said.
To promote public awareness of the hunt and to prevent hikers from crossing paths with sportsmen who will be in the area that covers parts of Milton, Quincy, and Canton, the state will post state troopers, park rangers, and other officials at reservation entrances. The state Department of Transportation will also put up message boards, and signs will also be at every trail head.
The reservation will be open for hiking and other activities during the hunt. Those who want to avoid the hunters can hike south of Interstate 93. But those people who want to hike in the hunting area will be issued orange hats and vests, Sisk said.
Sportsmen will be lining up for a chance to hunt in the Blue Hills, said Louis Santoro, 80, vice president of the Norwood Sportsmen’s Association.Jill Terreri Ramos can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @jillterreri.