BAR HARBOR — A steady stream of deer hunt opponents took to the microphone Tuesday to urge residents to vote no on a plan to open the area to deer hunting when they go to the polls Nov. 4.
Nearly all of the 20 people who spoke during Tuesday night’s public hearing before the town council voiced strong opposition to the proposed deer management plan, with arguments ranging from emotional to logical to scientific. Several people did speak in favor of opening the area to hunting.
“The deer have as much right, maybe more right, to live here as we do,” Harry Owen said. “The voters are being misled. Management? That sounds like an interesting word.
Plenty of others echoed Owen’s statement. Pete Bono argued that allowing a deer hunt would hurt tourism. In an allegory he told about “Beautiful Harbor” and “Animal Nature Park,” Bono described a scenario where a residents decided that seagulls were a problem and hunted them “until the clear waters of Beautiful Harbor turned red” and word had spread that “Most Desirable Island was no longer beautiful,” and the tourists took to staying away.
Joan Tukey argued that the deer herd task force, which developed the proposed management plan in conjunction with Maine wildlife officials, has focused on hysteria and fear in order to push through a desired deer hunt. Their proposal, and the actions of the town council in pushing such an agenda, she said, have upset many people in the town.
“I pray this deceptive campaign to jam this thing through is going to be defeated,” she said.
Much debate on Tuesday focused on Lyme disease and whether hunting deer could have any effect on the increasing population of deer ticks and the increasing incidence of the disease in humans. Dave Dawson, one of the supporters of the management plan, said the connection was clear.
“There is no doubt, scientifically, that the key animal in the life cycle of the tick is the deer,” he said.
Dawson further opined that the task force had proposed a very conservative management plan. “To call this a slaughter is, frankly, ridiculous,” he said. The few other proponents of the plan also voiced similar sentiments.
Many said that they thought that reducing the deer population would have no effect on Lyme disease. Mike Good, who said that proponents of the plan were cherry-picking their information, cited one scientist whose studies have found no connection.
“Lyme disease is not the issue, and that’s why we need to vote no on Nov. 4,” he said.
Derry Roopenian, a scientist, argued that there is a clear connection, though.
“The data standing there relating deer density to Lyme disease is unambiguous, no matter what anyone says,” he said. The risk to tourists is especially high, he said, because they do not even realize what type of symptoms they should be looking for, and there is little education about the problem here. “We should have a sign at the front of the island that says enter at your own risk,” he said, because of the Lyme issue.
For resident Joanne Sousa, the deer issue is simpler than worries over Lyme disease, though. The connection between deer and the people here is palpable, she said, and should be honored.
“As a child in Hulls Cove, I was brought up to love nature and used to ride around with my mother in the evening counting deer. Every deer sighting is precious to me,” she said. “They are our natural resource. We all need to live together on this beautiful island.”
The proposed deer management plan would open the area to special winter time firearms hunts for at least two years. There would then be a regular fall archery season. Firearm hunting would be allowed only from fixed locations, but hunters would be allowed to bait deer.
There are no deer surveys informing the proposal, nor do local wildlife officials believe deer have overcome their ecological carrying capacity. Rather, the task force concluded that deer have overcome their social carrying capacity, with incidents of Lyme disease, car accidents and landscape damage all being too high.