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ANDOVER

Limited deer hunt approved

Area near school barred from zone

By Katheleen Conti
Globe Staff / October 28, 2010

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A limited deer hunting season will kick off next Monday in some of Andover’s public conservation areas after it was approved by town officials concerned about the denigration of overbrowsed forests, increased local Lyme disease diagnoses, and public safety.

At a three-hour joint meeting Monday, the Board of Selectmen and Conservation Commission approved a trial deer-hunt program proposed by resident Robert Dalton, who was motivated after members of his family contracted Lyme disease from infected ticks that are often carried by roaming deer.

The Conservation Commission approved the proposal 5-1, with Alix Driscoll opposing it because of concern that hunting would eliminate the sense of refuge and serenity people expect when using open areas, as well as potential political repercussions at future town meetings when the commission seeks money to acquire open space.

The Board of Selectmen approved the proposal 4-0, with one member absent. The measure required approvals from both boards, which had adopted rules banning hunting on public land in 1978 and 1985.

Bow-and-arrow hunting of white-tailed deer will take place until Dec. 31 at the Bald Hill, Wood Hill, and Haggetts Pond reservations by up to 25 licensed hunters, who must meet proficiency standards and obtain a permit. However, Fish Brook, the largest proposed location, was omitted from both votes after concerns were raised that the School Committee did not participate in the discussion, despite the proximity of the site to Wood Hill Middle and High Plain Elementary schools.

School Committee chairman Dennis Forgue, speaking on behalf of Superintendent Marinel D. McGrath, recommended to both boards that, if approved, deer hunting on Fish Brook should be limited to nonschool hours, rendering the area off limits from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., for the safety of students who use the nearby playing field and who at times enter the woods.

Such a move, Dalton said, “pretty much effectively kills this whole area for hunting,’’ because once daylight saving time ends Nov. 7, it will be too dark to hunt in the evening. The proposal already contained a restriction prohibiting hunting on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and the state bans Sunday hunting.

He stressed that hunters would be at least 1,000 feet away from the playing field, double the distance of the minimum required setback, and that arrows don’t travel that far.

“That’s the biggest parcel of land in town and it’s right in the middle of town, so that’s a critical piece that you want to reduce the population of [deer],’’ Dalton said after the meeting, adding that he was pleased that the selectmen and Conservation Commission approved the temporary hunt. “I’ve had way more support from parents than negative. . . . I’m confident that when the school board sees the regulations we put in place and the safety of it, then I think maybe they’ll do slight modifications [to McGrath’s recommendation].’’

A decision on Fish Brook will require another vote of the selectmen and conservation commissioners, who may hold a special joint meeting with the School Committee Tuesday if logistics can be worked out so that it doesn’t interfere with Election Day. A vote on Fish Brook could be taken immediately after that meeting.

Addressing a standing-room-only crowd jammed into the selectmen’s meeting room in Town Hall at Monday’s meeting, Thomas J. Rawinski, a botanist with the US Forest Service, said that after a brief visit to Wood Hill and Bald Hill reservations earlier that day, “it didn’t take me long to figure out that a serious deer problem exists.’’

“What we want in a healthy forest is [for it] to be resilient. We want it to be able to withstand a hurricane, a fire, and until recently, that was a given,’’ Rawinski said. “That is not occurring anymore. So these forests are disintegrating right before our eyes.’’

Selectmen chairman Alexander J. Vispoli said the goal in Andover is to reduce the deer population from the current estimated 30 deer per square mile, to eight, which is the target density that state wildlife officials consider ideal to maintain a healthy landscape and deer population. Such a goal could take years to achieve.

Local doctor Robert C. Godefroi spoke in favor of the proposal, saying that Lyme disease rates in the area are epidemic.

Opponents argued that Lyme disease alone is not enough reason for a deer hunt, while others expressed concerns over the safety of the hunt on recreation land, enforcement of illegal hunting, and that hunting for just a few weeks will not yield significant statistical results from which to evaluate the trial period. Some opposed hunting of animals on principle, and suggested that town officials seek alternative ways to control the deer population.

Kristen Walsh, a Stevens Street resident, said she was disappointed by the votes.

“I have a child and safety is one of my concerns, but one of my main concerns is that I support animal rights and I think [a hunt] is cruel and unnecessary,’’ Walsh said. “It feels like a slippery slope. As more land gets developed, there’s less room for the deer to roam, and now it sounds like there’s a lot of people in favor of expanding the hunting [beyond the trial period], so it’s disappointing.’’

Katheleen Conti can be reached at kconti@globe.com

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