State deer hunt begins in Blue Hills

‘Massacre is just the beginning,” warns opponent

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

AS THE FIRST LEGAL HUNT in the Blue Hills Reservation in about a century got underway Monday, the state’s environmental chief said the controlled hunt will be safe, responsible, and effective, despite calls from animal rights activists to stop it.

“Blue Hills is a very unique place in the Commonwealth with the deer densities that currently exist in that location,” Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Matthew Beaton said during an appearance on Boston Herald Radio. “That is largely due to the fact that the deer have not been hunted over years because we are really the only check on their population at this point in time because they have no natural predators in the environment. When left unchecked, the population can get out of control.”

Beaton said Department of Fish and Game officials consider a deer population density of between seven and 14 deer per square mile to be a healthy size. In the Blue Hills, though, the deer population density can reach as high as 85 deer per square mile, Beaton said.

“There are significant ecological issues that are going on in the Blue Hills because the deer are going and foraging all of the vegetation and you don’t have the natural growth cycle occurring in the forest,” he said. “So they actually, at some point if left unchecked, would starve themselves out of the area and that would actually be a much crueler way for the deer to survive or unfortunately not survive.”

Though Beaton said the hunt will help control the spread of Lyme disease, reduce the occurrence of deer-involved car crashes, and limit deer-caused property damage in the area, a group called Friends of the Blue Hills Deer has organized to oppose the hunt.

Arguing that DCR’s estimate of the deer population is off and saying that the state did not listen to opposing voices during an abbreviated public comment period, the group has urged Gov. Charlie Baker to stop the hunt, and suggested that state officials control the deer population by using dart guns to inject contraceptives into the deer, rather than killing some.

The group has planned a public protest of the hunt at the Houghton’s Pond visitor center on Monday afternoon to attempt to put an end to the hunt.

“This massacre is just the beginning; if the Blue Hills fall prey to hunters, every other reservation and safe place in the state will be under attack next,” the group said in a statement. “No animal will be safe anywhere in Massachusetts.”

Beaton said he has “great respect for everybody’s opinion but I also look at things from a very practical, ecologically-based position.”

More than 2,500 licensed hunters applied for the roughly 200 permits to hunt the Blue Hills, Beaton said, and hunting will be limited to specific areas of the nearly 7,000-acre reservation.

To keep hikers and others safe, Beaton said the state has a “full court press” deployed, including Department of Conservation and Recreation rangers stationed at every trail head in the reservation and a heightened State Police presence during the hunt.

The first round of hunting at the Blue Hills will run from Monday, Nov. 30 through Tuesday, Dec. 1. The second round of hunting will run from Monday, Dec. 7 through Tuesday, Dec. 8.