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Blue Hills Deer Hunt

H. 757: An Act to study the health of the Blue Hills Forest and ecology to inform long-term reservation management

MSPCA Position: Support
Sponsors: Representative Driscoll
Status: Referred to Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture

The most recent Blue Hills Deer hunt happened in the fall of 2018. A total of 72 deer were killed by 55 hunters—23 deer were killed by bow and arrow and 49 were killed by shotgun. The 2018 Management Plan increased the number of archery hunters from 75 to 100 and opened archery hunting up to two new management areas. The plan added an additional 180 acres available to archers during the 11-day bow hunting season this past November. The shotgun season remained 4 days long, and took place this past December.

Prior to 2015, hunting in the Blue Hills has been prohibited for more than 100 years.

Contact your legislators about H.757

In 2017, the hunt occurred over 11 days in November (bow hunting) and 4 days in December (shotgun hunting). Notably, the addition of an 11-day bow hunt increased the total number of hunting days from 4 to 15. Also, an additional 450 acres of land were open to hunting in 2017. Despite the increased duration of the hunt in 2017 compared to 2016, the amount of deer killed reached only 67 – a mere 3 more than the previous record, resulting in frustrated hunters and money poorly spent.

In 2016, bow hunting was added to the hunt that begin in 2015. During the 2016 four-day hunt, 58 deer were killed, a number even lower than the count in 2015 of 64 deer.

These numbers call into question the accuracy of current deer population estimates in the Blue Hills. In fact, the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) and the Massachusetts Department of Fisheries and Wildlife (DFW) initially estimated a population density of 85 deer per square mile, but a revised count using a different methodology revealed only 55 deer per square mile.

DCR continues to assert that the hunt is necessary to control a high deer population that negatively affects Blue Hills forest ecology. However, no current scientific studies demonstrate that deer overpopulation exists, nor that it would be the sole cause of the Blue Hills declining forest health. H.757 has been filed for the 2019-2020 legislative session to support a study and scientific survey of the Blue Hills Reservation to determine potential causes of poor forest health.

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Information about the hunt:

In September 2015, the state announced public hearings on a proposed deer hunt in the Blue Hills, an area that, prior to 2015, had not been hunted in for 100 years. Despite a majority of comments at the public hearings that opposed the hunt or stated serious concerns, the state announced on October 14 – just seven days after comments were due – that the hunt would happen. Shortly after, the hunt began in November. Sixty-four (64) deer were killed.

In 2016, the annual hunt took place over a four-day period. Fifty-eight (58) deer were killed—6 fewer than in 2015—despite that over 250 more hunters participated, an additional 700 acres was open for hunting, and bow hunting was also allowed. Moreover, between 2015 and 2016, nearly $300,000 in state and local money was spent on the hunt, translating to a cost of at least $2,200 per deer.

In 2017, when the annual hunt expanded from 4 to 15 total days, hunters killed sixty-seven (67) deer. The state and local agencies once again spent thousands of dollars on the hunt with no significant decrease in the purported deer population.

Governor Baker proposed a new 2018 Environmental Bond Bill (H. 4318). At a hearing on the bill, legislators questioned EEA Secretary Beaton about unused funds from the original 2014 EBB, asking why critical funding from the 2014 went unspent, when it could have gone toward critical climate-hazard remediation on our coast.  However, projects promoting hunting interests from the 2014 bond bill, namely the Blue Hills hunt and other hunting opportunities in the state, were prioritized and executed. It is unfortunate that the state has prioritized spending on hunter recreation in the Blue Hills, rather than preserving our coastline, parks, wildlife and natural resources.

Wildlife culls are not a solution to address deer population concerns.

Contrary to popular belief, culling is not a viable solution for reducing deer numbers. The deer reproductive strategy is prolific and quickly compensates for population declines. If there is less competition for existing food sources, does will bear more offspring that same year. Thus, culling merely recreates and even exacerbates the very problem it purports to solve: hunting results in more deer being born, which then necessitates increased hunting, which in turn leads to still more deer.

Bow hunting does not offer a humane solution – for people or animals.

Dozens of studies show that bow hunting causes an unacceptably high “crippling rate”—close to 50% [i]—among deer. When deer are struck by an arrow and are wounded but not killed, they tend to flee, often leaving the area where they were hunted. Part of the “sport” of bow and arrow hunting involves following a blood trail to track the wounded animal. Wounded deer may flee onto private property abutting the Blue Hills, so hunters may be forced to trespass to put the animal out of its misery. Alternatively, some hunters may abandon their tracking efforts at a property line and leave the animal to die slowly from its wound. These abandoned deer endure prolonged suffering, and passersby, hikers, and others simply trying to recreate outdoors are subject to viewing the remains of the animal when it finally succumbs to its injuries.

Hunting does not reduce Lyme disease.

The pervasive but incorrect common name “deer tick” suggests a correlation between deer and tick-borne Lyme disease and has caused communities to increase deer hunting in a futile attempt to reduce the threat of Lyme disease. In fact, there was no correlation between deer and ticks found in recent studies (e.g., Jordan and Schulze, 2005; Ostfeld et al., 2006; Jordan et al., 2007) [i]. Ticks do not require a specific host and can thrive by feeding on white footed mice and other small animals. So when deer numbers are reduced, ticks will find other hosts that can more efficiently transmit a bacterial infection to feeding ticks, which can actually increase human’s risk of contracting Lyme disease. To effectively reduce the number of Lyme disease cases, the number of disease-carrying ticks must be reduced, not the number of deer. Read a recent article on the deer-Lyme disconnect and the new book, “Lyme Disease – The Ecology of a Complex System” by Rick Ostfeld. Read more about Lyme disease and deer on our website.

To effectively address concerns regarding Blue Hills forest health, solutions should be based on current information, not outdated studies.

While some might say that the forest health in the Blue Hills has been declining, the cause remains undetermined and is likely multifaceted. Because no current scientific research has holistically examined the health of the Blue Hills forest, outdated studies are used to justify a deer depopulation strategy that the DCR and DFW claim will lead to ecosystem recovery. However, based on existing data and the agencies’ inconsistent justifications for the hunt, it appears that the goal is to increase recreational hunting opportunities. During this 2019-2020 legislative session, Representative Bill Driscoll filed H.757, a bill that would support a study and scientific survey of the Blue Hills. Such a study and survey would help determine causes of the forest’s declining health and inform the most effective solutions.

What can I do?

  1. Contact your legislator to express opposition to this hunt, the rushed process, the questionable data on the deer population, and the lack of serious attention to alternatives. You can also send an email.
  2. If you live in the areas surrounding the Blue Hills –  MiltonCantonQuincyBraintreeRandolph and Dedham residents – please contact your local lawmakers and state senator and representative. Not sure who your elected official are? Visit www.wheredoivotema.org to find out!

Additional Information:


[i] Gregory 2005, Nixon et al 2001, Moen 1989, Cada 1988, Boydston and Gore 1987, Langenau 1986, Gladfelter 1983, Stormer et al 1979, Downing 1971.

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