February 1, 2013

A delicate balance

Deer are part of our scenery and our mythology: graceful, alert and intelligent, quick and quick-witted, a symbol from Native American folklore to Walt Disney. Regardless of our sentimental attachments and humane instincts, it is irrefutable that their grazing habits have damaged the forest understory and limited the development and growth of plants and trees that in turn provide habitats for birds and other mammals. Deer can be a nuisance to homeowners, farmers and gardeners seeking to grow plants and food, and car-deer accidents cause personal and property damage throughout the year.

The Pound Ridge Deer Management Committee issued the results of its fall hunting season last week. The numbers were “disappointing,” Pound Ridge police chief and program administrator Dave Ryan said this week. The total number of deer taken on town property includes 25 doe and 10 bucks. Eleven doe and three bucks were taken on private properties that abut town properties, giving the program a total of 36 doe and 13 bucks.

Bedford’s Mianus River Gorge Preserve produced lower numbers as well. Only six doe were harvested and no bucks were taken, according to Mark Weckel, director of research and land management at the preserve.

Various reasons for lower numbers are suggested. Doug Erickson, president of the Westchester County Bowhunters’ Association, said that the hunt was not as productive as some had hoped because the acorn crop was insufficient to lure the deer into the deep woods and the deer found their food supply by browsing on landscaping closer to homes. Others, including Chief Ryan, suggested that hunters did not take advantage of their quotas or hunting days, leaving many deer unharvested. Thirty of 41 hunters did not meet the minimum hunting requirement of 18 days.

Some have suggested that sharpshooters, not archers, are the answer to curtailing the deer population. But the proximity to homes and the number of hikers, horseback riders and nature lovers makes shooting on public lands too dangerous.

We suggest the following measures be taken to promote safe and successful hunting in our county!

• Training. We recognize that bowhunting is a highly specialized and skilled endeavor. Mr. Erickson said that greater skills among hunters could also improve harvest rates, which could be provided by county archery groups or even members of the deer management committee themselves.

• Expanding the program. Chief Ryan has asked that the Department of Environmental Conservation provide additional buck tags to allow more hunters to shoot.

• An “adaptive” approach. Mark Weckel of the Mianus River Gorge suggests that management plans should be “adaptive,” taking into consideration migration, food supplies and other variables, including global warming. “Bowhunting is an excellent solution and a good place to start a dialogue on the environment and forest regeneration,” he said last week.

• Homeowner involvement. Public hunting land fragmented by private property impedes successful hunting. In addition, wounded deer must be tracked, sometimes onto private property. Private landowners allowing hunters on their property would greatly benefit the deer management efforts made by Pound Ridge county parks and the Mianus preserve.

• A regional policy. Westchester County, or Wildlife Management Unit 3MS as it is known to the DEC, remains unique in its reliance on bowhunting. We urge continued cooperation and dialogue between the DEC, the county, bowhunters and environmentalists as we seek to maintain the delicate balance required for a healthy and sustainable habitat.

In the state — and the nation’s — ongoing gun debate, Westchester’s hunters are a breed apart. They don’t use firearms, which are prohibited for hunting use in the county, but rather bow and arrow. Westchester’s bowhunting season runs from Oct. 1 to Dec. 31, and includes hunting on private and reservoir lands, as well as county parks and some town-owned land. Crossbows are not permitted.

Because of these restrictions and the population density of Westchester County, bowhunting has unique challenges. Deer management is one key among many to the sustainability of our ecosystem, which relies on a balanced wildlife population. We commend the close attention paid by deer management officials and environmentalists in shaping an ongoing analysis, policy and

Read more local coverage of your hometown in this week’s issue of the The Record-Review. Newsstand copies are available at several locations listed above, or subscribe today for convenient home delivery.

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Cross River

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