Weston selectmen have backed the concept of using bow hunters to cull the town’s deer population, but they want to see detailed regulations before they give the plan final approval.
The Board of Selectmen voted unanimously last week to support the Conservation Commission’s proposal to allow bow-hunting for deer on town-owned conservation land. The next step is for the commission to draw up the rules.
“We could still shoot it down,” selectmen chairman Michael Harrity said in an interview. “We have not approved it because we want to understand the details that will ensure safety upon residents.”
Harrity called the board’s support of the plan “reluctant,” but said it appeared to be the only solution to controlling the town’s burgeoning deer population.
The vote followed a heated public meeting Monday night at which opponents argued that the plan was inhumane and dangerous.
‘Undoubtedly, this is going to leave people unhappy whatever we decide.’
They said that town’s stance from the beginning has favored hunting, and that other options were not fully considered.
“I’ve been very disturbed by the way this process has gone on,” said Weston resident Diane Anderson. “I think we need to get really educated on this before we make the decision to go to this drastic measure. Many of us feel this is very, very cruel.”
Conservation administrator Michele Grzenda has said the deer population in Weston has exploded in recent years, and that the animals damage the town’s conservation land, carry deer ticks that can cause Lyme disease, and cause car accidents by wandering into roads.
Weston should have about six to eight deer per square mile, she said. Instead, it has about 25.
The bow-hunting plan would allow trained archers to hunt on town-owned conservation land during a regulated hunting season. The commission has yet to come up with regulations concerning where and when the archers would be allowed to hunt.
Hunters in Massachusetts must be licensed annually through the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. Prospective hunters in Weston would also need to pass a proficiency test and get permission from the town to hunt there, said Grzenda.
Hunting in Weston is currently allowed only on private property with the permission of the landowner. State regulations prohibit the shooting of guns or arrows within 150 feet of a roadway or 500 feet of a building.
Deer hunting season for archers runs from Oct. 15 through Dec. 31, according to a spokesman for the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, and there is no hunting anywhere in the state on Sundays.
Before the vote, selectmen acknowledged that the strong feelings on both sides of the issue would make pleasing everyone impossible.
“Undoubtedly, this is going to leave people unhappy whatever we decide,” said Selectman Edward Coburn.
Officials said that the commission had considered alternatives to bow hunting, such as capturing the deer and injecting them with contraceptives, but found them impractical or ineffective.
Grzenda said in an interview that the town does not have the personnel to dedicate to locating and darting deer.
“I’m a one-person staff,” she said. “It’s not like we have staff available to spend countless hours darting a free-ranging deer herd and tagging them.”
It is illegal to relocate wild animals in Massachusetts, so moving the deer somewhere else is not an option.
Officials acknowledged that some deer would suffer, but said that hunting has gone on for thousands of years.
“Hunting is a fairly deep and ancient relationship between people and deer. This is not a new idea. It’s been done here for a long time,” said commission member Brian Donahue. “You are going to cause some pain and suffering to animals. That is inevitable. That is simply going to happen. That is simply part of the world.”
At Monday’s meeting, some people said they were concerned that allowing hunting would put Weston’s human residents in danger. According to the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, there has never been an incident in the state where a bow-hunter injured a nonhunter, but residents said that knowing there were hunters in the trees was enough to make them feel unsafe.
“I think it’s going to change the whole character of this community,” said Linda Gillooly. “It’s going to change the whole feeling of going out into the woods and enjoying it. People are going to be afraid for their existence.”
Harrity said he would like the commission to consider restricting where hunting would be allowed, the number of licenses that will be permitted, the test that archers would have to pass to be allowed to hunt in town, and the possibility of closing land while it is used for hunting.
Grzenda said that the commission will take all of those suggestions under advisement when writing regulations.
Grzenda said she hopes the Conservation Commission can vote on the regulations at its July 10 meeting, and that they can go before the Board of Selectmen by July 16. Both meetings will be open to the public.