BY JENNIFER SOLIS
---- — WEST NEWBURY — A new committee tasked with creating a hunting policy for town land is considering possibly allowing bow hunting of West Newbury’s deer population.
The Hunting Policy Committee met for the first time earlier this month to organize and begin discussions.
The Dunn property on Pipestave Hill and the Craven property off Brake Hill Terrace are being seen as the two most likely spots for bow hunting in town, although at least one committee member believes any property more than 5 acres in size should be reviewed.
While not a hunter himself, Selectman Glenn Kemper proposed the formation of the committee late last year. He won the support of Chairman Bert Knowles, but Selectman Dick Cushing voted against it.
“This is going to be a big change in town,” Kemper told the new panel. “(Some) people are going to think you’re the devil.”
Kemper provided the committee with a memo outlining messages the selectmen’s office has received since the group was formed. Most of the messages were from people against or unsure of the plan.
The selectman urged committee members to “have tunnel vision” during the process. He said while it’s important to encourage input, the panel must remember that its task is not to debate the merits of hunting.
Ultimately, it will be up to selectmen to decide whether to adopt any policy the committee brings forward, Kemper said.
Committee Chairman Jamus Driscoll said his aim was to find an appropriate use for town land “that balances multiple concerns.”
An avid outdoorsman, Driscoll has been following how other towns have developed hunting policies in recent years. He approached selectmen to gauge if there was interest in creating a similar type of policy for West Newbury. He added it isn’t necessary to “reinvent the wheel,” and would like to model West Newbury’s policy after Dover and Medfield.
Driscoll said West Newbury has a larger-than-typical deer population for its square footage, which can lead to multiple health and biological problems. West Newbury has 20 to 26 deer per square mile, but the ideal is eight to 10 deer. Taxpayers have spent significant money to purchase large amounts of land, so it is important to make sure it can be used to support a wide variety of interests, he said.
The committee also includes Chris Trim, Steve Forrest and Jennifer Germaine, who is also a member of the Open Space Committee. Steve Greason, chairman of the Open Space Committee, was originally appointed, but asked Germaine to take his place because he already has too much on his plate.
All four members of the Hunting Policy Committee, as well as Greason, identified themselves as hunters.
Another hunter, Peter Connelly, also decided against serving on the committee due to time restraints, creating one vacancy.
The group briefly discussed whether to reach out to the non-hunting community to fill that final spot. Driscoll proposed including a member of the Board of Health to bring a public health perspective.
Greason said that a hunter he regularly allows on his property told him that “sometimes the deer are so infested (with ticks), you can’t even eat the meat.” Damage to cars that hit deer and an increase in the coyote population in town because of the deer are also concerns, the panel agreed.
Germain, who comes from “a family of hunters,” said the committee must educate the public about how hunting can be done safely.
Trim, who considers his fellow hunters “great stewards of the land” who typically care deeply about the environment and well-being of the forests, said there has never been a fatality from bow hunting reported in Massachusetts.
Under state statute, hunting may occur only beyond 500 feet of a house or 150 feet of a road. Hunting season typically runs from the second Monday in October through Dec. 31, with no hunting on Sundays.
If a hunting policy was adopted in town, the group agreed that access points to the land would be clearly identified so people entering the woods would know to wear bright orange and leash their dogs, the group said.
Whether hunting is allowed on conservation restricted land and whether it should — and could — be limited to West Newbury residents only will also be considered.
Opponents to a proposed hunting policy in town have been vocal in their objections.
Linda Ventola said she doesn’t know anyone who supports the idea, adding she feels non-hunters should be included on the panel.
Don Leone wrote, “I want it banned from town and not expanded.”
And Amy Lucas wants town meeting voters to decide the issue.
Forrest was frustrated that people would form an opinion before the committee had a chance to meet.
“They haven’t even heard what we’re going to do — and it’s just no,” he said.
A 24-year resident, Forrest contended that hunters enjoy hunting to the same degree that people opposed to the activity hate it. “We’re not evil people. We’d just like to enjoy the land, too,” he said.
But not every message was in opposition. Gary Tipson disputed those who suggested West Newbury is too populated to accommodate hunting.
“If this means that we have become too urban and have outgrown our rural roots, I say no, at least not yet — and with any luck, not for a long time to come,” Tipson said. “I would be in favor of allowing hunting on town land.”
The new Hunting Policy Committee meets again on Thursday, Jan. 31.