Ridgefield Deer Committee
Ridgefield Recreation Center
195 Danbury Road
Ridgefield, CT 06877
A meeting of the Ridgefield Deer Committee was held in the Charter Oak III Room of the Ridgefield Recreation Center, 195 Danbury Road, Ridgefield, CT 06877 on January 24, 2005 at approximately 7:00 p.m.
The following members were present:
Mr. Belote chaired the meeting. Capt. Roche of the Ridgefield Police Department and Barbara Manners, Selectman were present. Nancy McDaniel was present to take minutes. Several member of the public were also in attendance.
Ms. Thaxter introduced Dr. Os Schmitz, professor and associate dean at the Yale School of Forestry. Dr. Schmitz opened by defining an ecologist as one who studies the interaction between organisms and the environment, which is a different emphasis from that of an environmentalist. Dr. Schmitz’ intent was not to recommend solutions, but to present scientific evidence and then allow the Committee to make a decision on actions.
He reviewed a case study in deer management by the CT DEP at Bluff Point near Groton, CT and questioned some of its conclusions. The study consisted of 806 acres closed off by a metal gate. The deer population soared to 300 at the site, ate all the vegetation and began to die of starvation. The Department of Environmental Protection biologist said that the area could support only 25 deer for optimum fat, body weight and reproductive rates.
The state authorized a hunt, which reduced the population to 25, but in time it rose again. Three hunts took place, and each time the population returned to high levels.
Since deer ought to increase at a lower rate due to the biological conditions present, the question is what accounts for the high numbers. It must be assumed that deer are coming in from another area and the population is not closed.
The landscape at Bluff Point is urbanized. Deer leave built-up landscapes and go to green areas for food and protection. Dr. Schmitz emphasized the need to examine how we use the land and the consequences of deer moving across the landscape.
He argued for the concept of ecological balance (or carrying capacity), the notion that food available in an area can support a defined number of deer and mortality must balance reproduction. Beyond that defined number, reproduction will cease or the young will die off. Death due to starvation is nature’s way of reaching balance.
There is a problem with the state’s determination that 25 deer is the balanced number at Bluff Point. If the population rose after the hunts, it suggests that the balance is higher than 25. In response to a committee member’s question, Dr. Schmitz agreed that the 300 deer on the preserve was too dense, but reiterated that the state’s goal of 25 appeared arbitrary.
Dr. Schmitz reviewed slides previously presented by Howard Kilpatrick of the DEP. The slides were meant to demonstrate the effects of overbrowsing. Dr. Schmitz pointed out several flaws with the slides, concluding these slides to not provide evidence regarding the effects of overbrowsing.
Dr. Schmitz reviewed his work in North Saskatchewan with a forest management company that needs to regenerate its forest for paper pulpwood. It has the additional need to reconcile timber management with indigenous people’s desire to protect wildlife. He stated that wolves feed on moose who feed on spruce, jack pine or aspen. The company clear cuts trees, replants and has a 60% failure rate because moose eat the seedlings. The result is that moose are hunted or chased away. Aspens then take over the new forest because it is a dominant competitor with spruce.
The company needed to get the right mix of trees. A fresh approach is to understand how moose interact with the forest and enlist them as agents to manage a mixed forest. Since moose prefer aspens, the company was able to exclude the moose from some areas to promote the desired level of aspen growth, while allowing them to browse others to foster the spruce. This produced the desired balance of plant densities. It is preferable and less costly to involve moose than human beings in reforestation.
A problem emerges in that clear cutting scares moose away. They will manage a forest only on the edges where they feel safe. Can moose behavior be altered? One approach is to do patch-cut harvesting instead of clear-cut so that moose will feel safe and can hide. Such strategic harvesting can alter the way moose use the landscape. The company must be willing to embrace adaptive management of the land.
Dr. Schmitz stated that in the past hunting was used to control the environment, but that it is better to think “outside the box” and create a new strategy.
One reason for Connecticut’s deer population increase is vegetation change. Edge habitats, appealing to deer, are on the increase as homeowners landscape their properties. Biodiversity loss can be correlated with rise in deer abundance. Perhaps landscapes should be changed.
Dr. Schmitz commented that there is no “silver bullet.” There is always a tradeoff between deer density and plant density. Schmitz encouraged the committee to ask what does Ridgefield want and how much vegetation is wanted?
In order to act, Ridgefield needs a:
Hunting as a management solution requires a:
He noted that the town does not have a GPS mapping system, which is needed to document whether there are “hot spots” of damage or overall damage. With proper mapping, the town could then proposed that population reduction is perhaps only warranted in these hot spots. Hunting, which alone does not solve the problem, could be necessary initially, but other steps should be taken as well. Reducing lawns and choosing ornamentals that do not attract deer are advisable, but may increase Lyme Disease potential. Contraceptives work only in closed population areas and Schmitz stated that he does not believe they will ever be a viable solution in an unrestricted setting.
Dr. Schmitz indicated that Yale students might be available to work on a deer survey. He cautioned the committee against simply recommending hunting as a solution without having clear goals and other supporting actions. He closed by emphasizing that it is important to determine what level of deer can be tolerated and to plan for the long term.
Ms. Sesto suggested holding the minutes for approval at the next meeting, at which time there will be three sets to approve. The membership agreed.
The next meeting will be on February 8, 2005 in the Copper Beach Room of the Recreation Center. Denise Savageau, Greenwich Conservation Director, is scheduled to speak.
Ms. Sesto adjourned the meeting at 9:00 p.m.