Opponents of deer hunting on town land in Weston are working to prevent a pilot population-control program from continuing next fall, despite concerns among officials that local forests are being denuded and the threat of Lyme disease is intensified by an overabundance of the animals.
A group of residents has been organizing opposition to the hunting program since the town broached the subject last year. A limited season, with permits granted to 26 bow hunters for access to five parcels of town property totalling about 2,000 acres, was approved over the summer; the season opened Oct. 15 and ends Dec. 31.
As of last week, hunters had reported taking 12 deer, with kills in all five hunting areas, according to Weston’s conservation administrator, Michele Grzenda.
But members of Deer Friends of Weston are working to make this year the last one for the hunt.
“We still think there is a question whether anything needs to be done at all about the deer,” said Diane Anderson, a cofounder of the group, which has been staging informational pickets about the bow-hunting program on Saturday mornings along Route 30 near Weston Center.
The group also has set up a Facebook page, while circulating a petition to ask next May’s Town Meeting to ban deer hunting on town land. The Weston hunt has been the subject of two other petitions online, and at least one Internet-promoted letter-writing campaign.
“We are trying to mobilize ourselves,” said Anderson, a longtime Weston resident and a mother of two. “We know we are not going to be able to stop this for this season, but our goal is to stop it for next hunting season.”
Weston, population 11,478, is among several Boston suburbs that have turned to bow hunting to help thin a growing deer population that has no natural predators. State wildlife officials estimate the local deer population to be 25 per square mile, in an area better suited to roughly 7 per square mile.
Selectman Edward Coburn, who is not a hunter, said that while he understands people like to see deer grazing in their yards and in the woods, the downside includes an increased risk of Lyme disease, which is spread to humans by ticks that feed on the animals, frequent deer-car collisions, and the toll on the woods.
Coburn said the town approved the limited hunt as a starting point in better controlling the deer population. An ecological study of the woodlands is underway through Brandeis University, and the continued use of the limited hunt as a conservation tool will be assessed after the 10-week season ends this month.
“The idea is let’s continue to collect information. This is a real problem and we need to continue to try to solve it,” Coburn said.
“When we approved this hunting plan, my colleagues and I agreed inaction is a decision that would not be responsible. There was a need to do something. We tried this for one year, and we are two-thirds of the way through the season and will evaluate it at the conclusion.”
Meanwhile, members of Deer Friends say they continue to feel unsafe strolling Weston’s 100 miles of trails, knowing that hunters armed with bows and arrows are perched in tree stands.
Residents have told Anderson and Deer Friends cofounder Alicia Primer of finding arrows in the woods, spotting a camouflaged man near woods not open to hunting, and even seeing at least two wounded deer impaled with arrows.
“The whole atmosphere created is not what we wanted on our public lands,” Primer said.
“Our group said originally when this passed that because bow hunting does not kill the deer right away, this would be really disturbing — to have deer running into yards with arrows in them dying,” Anderson said.
“Now we have a high school sophomore who had a deer run through her yard with an arrow through its neck, all bloody. Another woman walking with her dog through the woods saw a deer staggering with an arrow through it. This is what is happening.”
But Weston resident Russ Iuliano sees the situation a bit differently.
Iuliano, 57, holds one of the 26 special bow-hunting permits issued by the town. Since mid-October, he said, he has hunted at least twice a week in the largest zone — Jericho Town Forest — but has seen only one deer, and it was so far away he did not loose an arrow.
“Obviously, there are neighbors who are nervous about having hunters in the woods, but they have been extremely nice,” said Iuliano, who grew up hunting and has passed the tradition onto his son, who is now in college.
“Everyone I have spoken to has been excited about having fewer deer, which means fewer incidents of Lyme disease. They have been excited to a lesser extent about the reduced destruction of habitat. It is really unnoticed. They don’t notice the absence of songbirds, but I do. It’s eerily quiet in the woods now. There’s a change in the forest ecology and that drives the birds away,” Iuliano said.
“The Conservation Commission is very concerned about the change but no one has really put that together so the public understands it. It’s not just one thing. It’s a change in lots of things that caused the animals to move away.
“But this experience overall has been really good,” Iuliano said, “and I am glad I did it.”