A sound deer plan

In another example of failing to consider potential consequences before acting, an ill-fated decision about 45 years ago to tamper with Mother Nature and introduce a few deer on to Block Island has led today to a situation that threatens the island's ecology.

The four does and four bucks - all Virginia white-tailed deer - brought by ferry to the island in the late 1960s have exploded to a population of about 1,000. There is not sufficient vegetation to support that many foraging deer, which means some plant-life native to the island could be in danger of not recovering from severe depletion due to the over grazing.

Other concerns include damage to crops and landscaping and a heightened threat of exposure to tick-borne diseases, including Lyme. There is also the suffering of the animals themselves as they try to survive in an ecology that cannot sustain them all on a 9.5-square-mile island. Without natural predators on Block Island, the deer population will only grow.

It is certainly not the outcome anticipated when officials thought it a good idea to enhance the wildlife viewing on the scenic island.

To address the situation Rhode Island environmental and town officials have agreed to cull the heard through a method that cannot be remotely be considered a hunt. In February, deer will be lured to feeding stations where expert shooters, contracted by the town and state, will pick off the deer from atop elevated platforms.

Distasteful, perhaps, and certainly nothing sporting about it, but there appears to be no better solution. The sharpshooters will receive $125 per deer. Some have questioned why not let hunters cull the herd. But wildlife experts have ruled that out due to safety concerns on the relatively small island and because much of the land is private and so not open to hunting.

With a goal of culling 200 deer, this first round is only a start. Wildlife officials want to reduce and maintain the deer population at 100 to 150.

Islanders will have first dibs on the venison. The meat they do not use will go to food banks. The plan is a practical solution to an unfortunate problem.

The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board's discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.


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