WEST NEWBURY — How best to address a growing deer population in town was explored at the Board of Selectmen’s meeting on Wednesday. The topic sprang from a letter received from Owen Mercer of Dracut asking permission to hunt with a bow on town-owned land known as the Dunn Property, located off Chase Street.
Mercer, who described himself as 5-year Iraq War veteran in the Marines currently studying to be a wildlife or marine biologist, said he was contacted by the Dunn family about a growing deer and wild turkey population in the area. As a close friend of the Dunn family, Mercer said he was offering to thin the herd as a way to resolve the problem and substantially lower the risk of Lyme disease, which is spread by deer ticks.
Mercer planned to use only archery equipment to hunt and to stay 500 feet from any occupied dwelling and 150 feet from the road so as to minimize the risk of an accidental shooting. He stressed that he “understood the importance of safety” and that “no risk is worth taking in the harvest of game.”
“Every shot taken must be thought out carefully to ensure the public’s safety,” he wrote.
While selectmen acknowledged receiving complaints from many residents about the deer population, Dick Cushing pointed out that under state laws, deer management must follow specific guidelines. The board agreed to send a letter to the Massachusetts Division of Fish and Wildlife to get more information on deer management protocols.
According to town bylaws, hunting is not permitted on private or public land without written consent from the owner or legal occupant, which in the case of the Dunn property means the Board of Selectmen.
“Such consent shall be carried at all times by any person hunting and must be shown upon request to law enforcement or the property owner,” the bylaw states.
On the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s website, MassWildlife states that the deer population is managed using regulated hunting during three distinct hunting seasons:
First: Archery season, a six-week season beginning on the sixth Monday prior to Thanksgiving and ending on the first Saturday after Thanksgiving
Second: Shotgun season, a 12-day season beginning on the Monday after Thanksgiving and ending on the second Saturday thereafter
Third: Primitive firearms (“muzzleloader”) season beginning on the third Monday after Thanksgiving and ending on Dec. 31.
“Since deer population growth rates can exceed 30 percent annually, hunters provide a unique service in helping us achieve our population density goals. By proactively limiting deer densities, we avoid the consequences of over-population,” the website states.
State guidelines recommend maintaining deer densities between 10 and 30 per square mile, to avoid “excessive property damage, road collisions and Lyme disease,” the site states.
Also during Wednesday’s meeting the board approved use of the following town facilities:
The field and trails at Pipestave Hill for a bicycle demonstration on Sunday, Nov. 18, from noon to 4 p.m. A $75 use of facility fee was charged.
The Town Annex for a child’s birthday party on Dec. 8 from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. with a $50 usage fee.
The Town Annex for meetings of the Seacoast Modern Quilt in December and January; no usage fee charged.
The Friends of the Pentucket Sports Breakfast received a one-day liquor license for the annual pre-football game gathering at the American Legion Hall on Thanksgiving Day morning.
Selectmen signed a contract renewal with Comcast and approved using PEG grant funds to offset wages and expenses incurred to resolve ongoing problems with the town’s cable access television broadcast.
A letter from Ellen Alden regarding the need for the Public Works Department to address a reoccurring puddle in an unpaved area in front of Town Hall was taken under advisement.
Discussions about the Page Elementary School lease will be placed on a future agenda and Cushing informed his colleagues that some residents were confused over road closings and signage erected during a recent road race. The board agreed no private organizations were authorized to limit access to town roads for any reason.
In response to a question from the press, selectmen briefly discussed what appears to be a chronic distrust of the town’s leadership over the past several years and what steps might be taken to alleviate it.
The board plans to meet next on Tuesday, Nov. 20, and then on Dec. 5, 19 and Jan. 9.
Selectmen went in to executive session to review minutes from closed sessions in August, September and October.