Ecology program assistant at The Trustees of Reservations, which has properties around the state including the south suburbs
White-tailed deer, once heavily depleted in the Eastern United States due to large-scale deforestation, removal of natural predators, and overhunting, have rebounded dramatically in the past century. This trend has been particularly obvious the last few decades as forests have returned while suburbanization has ultimately led to local hunting bans.
Overabundance of any wildlife population can throw off an ecosystem’s natural balance, and deer are no exception. Deer now threaten the ecological health and resiliency of many habitats and protected lands throughout the Northeast by over-consuming plants in forest understories. As a result, in many forested areas throughout Massachusetts, including the Blue Hills, young trees, shrubs, and wildflowers are missing. These areas frequently appear park-like and beautiful. But the plant habitat consists of only a few dominant species unpalatable to deer and provides little forest regeneration, making these areas less resilient to climate change and storm events. Diverse forests and habitats are critical to maintaining biodiversity, pollination, water quality, sustainable forest products, and recreation.
At The Trustees of Reservations, we see first-hand the impact that too many deer have on our special places. In some cases, we have erected protective fencing around rare plant populations to prevent localized extinction because of deer browsing. However, fencing is only a Band-Aid solution because it is impractical to fence entire landscapes.
Like the state Department of Conservation and Recreation, The Trustees is concerned with the overall well-being of our natural landscapes. We have implemented long-term, controlled hunting programs as the only practical option to help restore and maintain our cherished open spaces by managing deer numbers. In extreme cases, such as at the Crane Estate in Ipswich during the 1980s, deer numbers can become so high deer begin to starve. Our decision to hunt deer is not unique nor easy, but one we make as informed stewards.
We support DCR’s plan to expand the Blue Hills hunt to include more of the reservation as it pursues management benefiting the ecological health of this extraordinary resource. If you care about the overall health of our wildlife, our landscapes, and our communities, we urge you to also support controlled deer hunting at Blue Hills and in general.
Milton resident, member of the Friends of the Blue Hills Deer
Charles Eliot, a key force behind the creation of the Metropolitan Park System of Greater Boston that includes the Blue Hills Reservation, spoke of the need to create places where people could enjoy “the peaceful beauty of nature” and a respite from the “noisy ugliness” of the city. In that spirit, all forms of hunting were expressly prohibited in the reservation and rules outlawed “the injury of any wild animal or bird.” More than a century later, all that has changed.
The Department of Conservation and Recreation brought hunters with shotguns to the Blue Hills in 2015 as an emergency measure to control the spread of Lyme disease by a growing deer population. When DCR’s premise was disputed by qualified scientists, including a prominent Harvard researcher, the hunt should have been ended immediately.
Instead, DCR pivoted to its claim of forest degradation caused by too many deer, even though the US Environmental Protection Agency says that climate change and its associated impact -- including outbreaks of forest pests and pathogens -- are also harming the forests and other ecosystems of the Northeast.
DCR circumvented the hunting ban when then state senator Brian Joyce of Milton added language into the 2014 Environmental Bond Bill authorizing the “harvest” of deer when DCR considers it “in the best interest of the public.” Despite public requests for an independent study of the deer hunt in the Blue Hills, DCR officials at a recent public meeting told us their hunt must now continue every year to control the deer population.
Long before many local public officials were even aware of the 2014 legislation, online hunting forums were already buzzing with excitement about this new hunt.
Despite strong public opposition to the hunt, the Baker administration is not listening. State Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew Beaton is an avid hunter.
Unanswered questions, back-door legislation, $250,000 in taxpayer money spent to kill 122 deer over two years, and growing public safety concerns are red flags that clearly indicate this hunt is a colossal mistake. DCR must stop this sham of a deer hunt and hand the Blue Hills Reservation back to the people who consider it a peaceful and beloved sanctuary.
Last week’s Argument: Should Massachusetts require police to obtain search warrants to use drones for investigations?
Yes: 54 percent (27 votes)
No: 46 percent (23 votes)
As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. He can be reached at email@example.com.