State officials should move quickly to address the controversial issue of deer overpopulation in the Blue Hills Reservation, the large woodland that serves as a backyard for Boston and surrounding cities and towns.
Certainly, there is no perfect way to cull deer in public parks, and authorities should proceed with caution. But maintaining the status quo in the Blue Hills will only exacerbate the serious overcrowding and create a greater public safety issue. Although deer are a natural part of the reservation’s landscape, overpopulation can damage the ecosystem, and create hazards on nearby roads. The state’s Division of Fisheries and Wildlife should work with the Department of Conservation and Recreation, which owns the land, to design a carefully controlled deer hunt.
Two years ago, the fisheries and wildlife division released a survey of the deer population in the Blue Hills area. Researchers found that on average, there are about 85 deer per square mile of habitat. The state agency’s goal — in order to maintain a healthy ecosystem in the park — is to have 6 to 8 deer per square mile. Having 10 times the normal population of deer is not ecologically sustainable.
“There aren’t many high-mortality factors in the habitat that could contribute to balance the numbers out,” said David Stainbrook, an agency biologist and the author of the 2013 report. “Humans have to step in to cull the population, and in a habitat without hunting, the numbers will continue to grow exponentially.”
Other solutions are simply not an option for financial reasons. Sterilization can cost as much as $1,300 per animal. Available birth-control methods — via surgery or a contraception vaccine — require capturing the doe, which could be costly. Relocating deer elsewhere would also be expensive.
DFW is prepared to recommend that some form of hunting takes place at Blue Hills, but the decision rests ultimately with DCR. Although public support for hunting deer in the Blue Hills has been minimal in the past, a board member of the Friends of the Blue Hills group recently told the Globe she would be in favor of a “very controlled” type of deer hunt only if it was limited to archery. “I think people might be more open to it,’’ she said. “I don’t like the thought of [guns] in our Blue Hills.”
To be sure, any bow hunting program should be widely publicized and tightly supervised; the state should issue licenses to allow only qualified hunters and impose limits on time and place. Authorities should make sure that Blue Hills visitors are not caught off-guard, and do not stray into hunting zones inadvertently. For additional safety, requiring hunters to use elevated stands could mitigate the risk of errant shots. Both agencies should step up their efforts to find a solution for one of the region’s most prized natural resources.