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Protesters flock to defend Blue Hills deer

Mason Grainger, of Boston, played his bugle during a protest on Washington Street in Canton.
Mason Grainger, of Boston, played his bugle during a protest on Washington Street in Canton.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

CANTON — Animal rights activists protested on Saturday against the first legal hunt planned at the Blue Hills Reservation in more than a century.

Holding signs stating "Stop the Slaughter," and "100 Years of Peace Shattered by Shotguns," about 50 people gathered along a busy stretch of Route 138 for about 90 minutes yesterday afternoon.

"There is absolutely no excuse to have a [hunt] when there are humane alternatives," said Mason Grainger, 20, a student at the New England Conservatory of Music, who wore reindeer antlers on his head. He blew a bugle "to give the protest more flair," he said.

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The state Department of Conservation and Recreation has scheduled a four-day hunt, to be held just after Thanksgiving, to help control a deer population that has reached “heightened levels that are compromising the long-term health of the forest,” according to an announcement from the agency.

The Blue Hills average 85 deer per square mile of forest, far above the state goal of having six to 18 deer per square mile, the statement said. The overpopulation can negatively affect the regeneration of the forest, and contributes to the spread of Lyme disease from deer ticks, according to state officials.

Troy Wall, a spokesman for DCR, said in a statement that the hunt aims to "revitalize the Blue Hills ecosystem for both wildlife and visitors for years to come."

But the protesters questioned the need for the hunt.

"I hike in [the reservation] every day, sometimes twice a day," said Peter Morrissey, 73, of Braintree, who helped to organize the protest. "I haven't seen a deer here in a year."

Mark Thomas, a hunter from Canton, agreed, saying the harsh winters have naturally killed the deer population in the Blue Hills.

"This past spring I found more dead deer than the last 10 years combined," said Thomas, 41, who said he often takes walks through the 7,000-acre reservation.

The hunt has been scheduled for two-day sessions, Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, and Dec. 7 and 8, and will be restricted to 3,000 acres of the reservation in Dedham, Milton, and Quincy, according to the state's Blue Hills Deer Management Plan released last month.

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A lottery has been held to select 196 hunters, or 98 per session, to participate, the state said.

Cate Gibbons, of Worcester, waved to passing traffic during the protest.
Cate Gibbons, of Worcester, waved to passing traffic during the protest.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

Martha Schick can be reached at martha.schick@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @MarthaSchick. Reenat Sinay can be reached at ReenatSinay@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @RenSinay.