WESTBOROUGH — State wildlife officials on Tuesday praised the four-day deer hunt in the Blue Hills Reservation as a success, saying the effort will thin the growing population by at least 120 deer and serve as a model for future hunts in overrun forests.
In the first deer hunt in the park's 122-year history, hunters over four days killed 64 deer, 47 of them female. While that represented a small percentage of a deer population that is estimated to be at least six times healthy levels, officials said the hunt was a good start toward reducing the herd.
"I think this is a great first step," said Michael Roche, a member of the state's Fisheries and Wildlife Board. "It's a no-cost management tool."
Protesters had questioned the accuracy of the state's population estimates, which are based on a 2013 survey, and some said last winter's harshness could have naturally reduced the deer population, rendering the hunt unnecessary.
"They have no way of knowing what the effect has been," said Steve Rayshick, a member of the Friends of the Blue Hills Deer group, which opposed the hunt.
In a presentation to the board Tuesday, David Stainbrook, a deer biologist for the state's Division of Fisheries & Wildlife, said the forest was extremely overpopulated, with an estimated concentration of 85 deer per square mile. The state recommends that density not exceed 18 deer per square mile.
In the first two-day session, which began Nov. 30, 85 hunters killed 41 deer. In the second, held a week later, 70 hunters killed 23.
Less than half of the 10-square-mile forest was open to hunters, Stainbrook said. There were no injuries or safety issues.
"It was safely conducted in an urban area," he said.
The Department of Conservation and Recreation, which manages Blue Hills, termed the hunt "a good beginning" toward addressing overpopulation. A spokesman said officials are evaluating the results before deciding whether to organize hunts in the future.
The board did not discuss whether future hunts should be held. But the state's deer management plan for the Blue Hills, released in October, proposes four days of hunting next year, followed by six days each year from 2017 to 2023.
With fewer than five days of hunting, the population densities could be reduced below 50 deer per square mile of forest within five years, the plan estimates. Bringing that below 20 deer per square mile would require at least eight days of hunting a year.
The plan seeks to "bring deer densities to a level more aligned with what the forest can sustain."
"The continued population growth will lead to increased vehicle collisions and other public safety issues, increased impacts to the forest, and decreased health of the deer," the plan asserts.
The plan dismisses other methods that some activists consider more humane. Contraception has not been shown to be effective at reducing high deer densities, the plan stated, and sterilization would only prevent or slow growth.
Stainbrook said residents who live near the woods had experienced the problems of overpopulation and "really wanted something to be done."
Jack Clarke, director of public policy and government relations for Mass Audubon, said his group supports the hunts as a necessary population control measure.
"They are causing significant ecological damage," he said. "It's an unmanageable situation."