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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Deer Population surge results in City organized Hunts

City across the midwest are starting to allow the hunting of white-tailed deer on city-owned property. The towns are even going so far as to ask large property owners who might consider opening their backyards to hunters to register with police.

The Pound Ridge Town Board voted Oct. 5 to allow bow-hunters with valid state licenses to hunt on three pieces of town land - 63 acres off Winterbottom Lane, 19 acres of Sachs Park and 17 acres off Horseshoe Hill Road.

Why? Pound Ridge, like much of the Lower Hudson Valley, is overrun with deer - five times as many as the environment can sustain, town officials say. Suburban development has reduced the habitat for the natural predators of deer, including hunters, and left the deer free to eat everything in sight. There are whole tracks of woodlands and forests where few branches are left within a deer's reach. Few shoots grow from the forest floor, few spring wildflowers live long enough to bloom. While the deer are having a feast, the birds and other beasts that call the forest understory home, are left without.

Pound Ridge isn't alone in taking action.

A couple of years ago, New York City's Department of Environmental Protection opened 330 acres of land in surrounding the Kensico Reservoir in North Castle - called the Big Peninsula - to deer hunting for the first time. They even gave out prizes like venison cookbooks and headlamps, and reduced the hunting age to 14 (with a parent) as an incentive to draw more hunters to its property. Next year, the DEP plans to open even more land, nearly 36,000 acres to deer hunting.

Why, you might ask, is New York City so desperately seeking hunters? It turns out that the saplings and ground cover that the deer eat help filter the water that flows through watershed properties and ultimately comes out of the tap.

Even organizations that are notoriously animal-friendly have called for increased deer hunting, for example the New Jersey Audubon Society, which opposed the state's bear hunt, began advocating for deer hunting last year and is considering allowing hunters onto some of its own property.

The Audubon folks were reluctant to endorse deer hunting, and so are we. But song birds, trees, wildflowers and water quality need protection, too.

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