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New England Is on the Antlers of a Dilemma

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ASSOCIATED PRESS

Thousands of New England hunters took to the woods recently for the opening of deer season, but their best efforts may not be enough to slow an alarming rise in the region’s herds.

Hunters will kill at least 70,000 deer in the six New England states this fall. Traffic accidents will claim another 20,000 during the year.

Yet conservation officials said the region’s white-tailed deer population has doubled over the last 10 years to more than 600,000 as the number of licensed hunters drops.

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Not only are deer more numerous; they’re more likely to live near people. Farmers and gardeners in cities, suburbs and rural areas are frustrated by marauding does and yearlings that devour fruit trees, nibble shrubs and raid vegetables.

“All the Northeast states are reporting increased deer populations,” said Michael Gregonis, a Connecticut wildlife biologist. “In many areas deer have made themselves nuisances, especially on the highways.”

In Maine, 4,294 deer were reported killed on state highways last year, and officials said many more deaths went unreported. Connecticut had 2,000 deer-related traffic accidents.

Howard Kilpatrick, a Connecticut wildlife biologist, said as many as 5,000 deer are killed on state highways each year. The majority are killed in populous Fairfield County, where 26 deer inhabit each square mile, more than twice the number in other areas of the state.

In Montpelier, the Vermont capital, there are 23.5 deer per square mile. Deer sometimes graze on the statehouse lawn at night, and hunters killed 59 of them within city limits in 1996. Vermont’s deer population increased from 65,000 in 1987 to about 160,000 this year.

Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Connecticut also say their deer herds are growing at an unparalleled pace.

Connecticut has about 55,000 deer, almost twice as many as in 1975, when conservation officials started a program to increase the number of white-tailed deer.

States along the East Coast have begun proposing more liberal hunting regulations aimed at thinning out the deer herds.

In some Maryland counties, a hunter taking advantage of rifle, muzzleloader and bow seasons this fall could legally kill 36 deer.

Maine issued 43,826 any-deer permits, allowing the holders to hunt bucks and does. Still, the deer population continues to swell as the number of licensed deer hunters has steadily decreased.

When deer season opened in Maine this fall, the state had the lowest number of resident deer hunters--150,000--in 25 years.

Vermont and Connecticut were among 31 states that saw the number of licensed hunters drop from 1987 to 1997, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Nonetheless, Vermont has one of the highest per-capita rates of hunters in the nation at about 80,000.

Gregonis said the deer population will continue to increase.

“There’s a lot of private land in the region that’s not hunted,” he said. “This land becomes a refuge for deer. Also, there’s a lot more forested land than there was 30 years ago. This means more deer habitat, which means more deer.”


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