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Article Published July 27, 2016

Deer Management Program Moves Forward in Guilford

By Zoe Roos/

After years of controversy and planning, a deer management program will move forward this fall, allowing hunting on the East River Preserve for the first time since the parcel was [purchased by the town. While the initial plan received both support and backlash, local officials say this plan is the best way to control the deer population and protect the area’s natural resources.

The East River Preserve, a 584-acre property, was purchased for $14.5 million in 2009 from the Goss family. Back in January 2012, the Board of Selectmen (BOS) approved a management plan put forward by the East River Preserve Planning Committee—a plan that included hunting on the property. At the time, no hunting would be allowed to move forward until a safe and practical deer management plan was established and approved.

Over the next several years, the Deer Management Committee, established as a part of the East River Management Plan in 2012, conducted research to establish a deer management plan designed to “to ensure that the ecological values and uses of this protected open space are managed to sustain and, where necessary, restore the property’s natural resource values by conserving a diverse and healthy suite of habitats,” according to a release from the East River Preserve Deer Management Committee.

The management plan was approved by the BOS in March 2015. First Selectman Joe Mazza said he felt the plan was the right move.

“It is a matter of management of the population to protect the balance of the environment,” he said. “All of the experts tell us it is a way of managing the population and it is also about the safety of our citizens, because if the deer don’t have enough to eat where they are, they are going to roam elsewhere and run out in the road and cause motor vehicle accidents.”

Now with the plan approved and in place, bow hunting for deer control will be conducted on the property Monday through Friday from Oct. 15 through Nov. 15. Hunters are allowed on the property from 4:30 to 11:30 a.m. No hunting will be allowed on weekends or a day that school is not in session. The Preserve will remain open to the public while the deer control is being conducted.

Environmental Planner Kevin Magee said only bow hunting will be allowed as a safety precaution.

“It is the safety factor because the bow hunters are actually going to be up in tree stands. The thought behind it is they are going to be shooting at an angle toward the ground,” so any arrows shot will land close to the hunter, he said.

Twenty hunters will be selected through a lottery system, according to Magee, who said there will be strict qualifications.

Applicants “have to maintain a Connecticut hunting license with a bow permit; they have to pass a background check; they have to pass a proficiency test, which is them shooting at a target at a certain distance away from it; and they have to attend a safety meeting,” he said.

Magee said the town will have to wait and see how successful the program is after the first year, but he said something needs to be done about the deer population.

“The large deer population causes the loss of plants that provide homes to understory nesting bird and animal species,” he said. “Tree species, especially oaks, have been unable to regenerate because acorns and saplings are consumed by deer.”

The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station documented deer browse damage at the East River Preserve, according to Magee, who said the committee carefully considered the argument for and against hunting.

“We had people concerned with safety on the committee, we had a citizen who was also a Department of Energy & Environmental Protection environmental police officer on the committee who provided guidance in terms of what the hunting rules and regulations are, we had several people who were against deer hunting...We had that so that the discussion was balanced,” he said.

Magee said the committee also considered expert options from outside sources, including speakers from the Connecticut Audubon Society. Magee said that the Audubon Society allows hunting on its property because it found out the deer on its property were pushing out other important wildlife species.

“They found that once they started controlling the deer population, the wildlife which they had seen disappearing started to come back to the property,” Magee said. “It is a balancing effect.”

Overall, Magee said the goal is to reduce the overabundance of deer in a controlled manner. Applications for the hunting lottery are due by Monday, Aug. 22. Applications are available at Town Hall South located at 50 Boston Street and on the Town of Guilford website under the Conservation Commission tab.