WEST NEWBURY — A committee tasked with developing a policy for bow hunting on town land met recently with director David Rimmer of Essex County Greenbelt to discuss how he manages the activity on the land he oversees for the nonprofit organization.
Rimmer said Greenbelt allows “a wide range of activities” on the land it manages including hunting on some of its properties. His board of directors views hunting as “a worthwhile activity,” Rimmer said, though he admitted they “try to keep it as a low-key program.”
Founded in 1961, Greenbelt owns or oversees 350 parcels making up 5,500 acres in 27 communities across the state. In West Newbury last year ECGB gave permission for a total of six people to hunt on five of its 23 parcels — the 60-acre Ordway Reservation on Turkey Hill Road, a land-locked parcel on Beaver Brook, the Thurlow Field on Bachelor Street, the Cawley Parcel and some wooded lots on South Street.
The nonprofit manages 288 acres in town and views hunting as a way to limit the destruction of habitat, public health risks, vehicle collisions and unhealthy deer that come with overpopulation.
An archery hunter himself, Rimmer told the committee it was “on the right track” in pursuing bow hunting because the activity was safe and “very efficient.” As part of its process, the hunting group plans to look at policy in other towns, such as Andover, Medfield and Dover. Ultimately, it will be up to the Board of Selectmen to decide whether to implement whatever proposed hunting policy the group develops.
According to ECGB policy, hunters must reapply annually for every property on which they wish to hunt. Each application is reviewed independently based on factors such as how the land is used generally, the overall acreage, proximity to busy roads and abutters, etc.
Only one or two hunters in total are given permission to set their tree stands on a particular parcel. They are instructed to consider the activity a privilege and told they must respect and defer to all other land users on the property.
Per its policy, hunters must be members of ECGB, carry written permission on them at all times while hunting, shoot only from a tree stand, follow all state hunting laws and wear orange if hunting outside of bow hunting season. Archery season runs for six weeks starting in October, followed by two weeks of shotgun season and then two weeks of hunting with a muzzleloader.
During a public comment portion of the meeting, Elaine Drolet of Brown Springs Farm told the committee she has been having “a terrible time with deer” on her farm and wound up developing a serious case of Lyme disease last summer. Drolet said, “It’s too bad to kill them, but they will become unhealthy.”
“Lyme appears to be on the increase,” Chairman Chris Trim reported. According to information provided by health agent Paul Sevigny, reported cases of Lyme in the past decade are as follows: 2003, nine cases; 2004, 13; 2005, 24; 2006, 23; 2007, 29; 2008, 27; 2009, 36; 2010, 25; 2011, 11; and 2012, 28.
Sevigny also provided information on other tick-borne illnesses reported in town such as ehrlichiosis, babesiosis, borrelia and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Though occurring in much less frequency than Lyme, cases of all these illnesses except spotted fever have been reported.
Middle Street resident Amy Lucas said people she has spoken with are fearful about how a hunting program would be managed in town in which residents so actively use the land for other activities —like hiking, biking, dog walking and horseback riding. Would there be specific hunting hours and days of the week? she asked.
“The biggest thing is the unknowing,” Lucas said.
Trim told Lucas that hunters are already hunting illegally on town land. “It’s just not being controlled,” he said.
Member Steve Forrest weighed in with statistics on the number of deer reportedly killed by vehicles in town over the past few years. In 2010, 24 deer were killed; in 2011 it was nine deer; in 2012, 18 were killed; and three deer have been killed so far in 2013.
The panel will continue exploring what restrictions on use are applicable on land bought with state or federal funds. It plans to meet with the Conservation Commission for input on town land that falls under its jurisdiction.
This month committee members will take a site walk of 15 town properties in order to determine which parcels are best suited to their purpose. The characteristics of Dunn and Craven properties, as well as land off Chase Street, Pikes Bridge, Captain Pierce Drive, Woodcrest Drive and the Riverbend area behind Page Elementary School were discussed.
“Bring our dogs, bring our children and let’s go into the woods to see what we have,” said Trim.