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Stop the 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; hearing will be held September 10, 2019.

Prior to 2015, hunting in the Blue Hills had been prohibited for more than 100 years. Despite dubious science, a hunt has now been permitted in the Blue Hills for the past four years. The hunt is disruptive to the area community, has cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars, and there is no scientific evidence to suggest that the hunt is either decreasing the deer population or improving the health of the Blue Hills forest.

Contact your legislators about H.757

The history:

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 permitted hunting for 100 years. Despite the majority of the public’s comments either opposing the hunt or expressing serious concerns, the state announced on October 14 that the hunt would take place. Shortly after, the hunt began in November. Over a period of 4 days of shotgun hunting, 64 deer were killed. In 2016, 58 deer were killed—6 fewer than in 2015—despite the fact that more hunters participated, an additional 700 acres was opened for hunting, and bow hunting was also allowed (in addition to shotgun hunting). Across 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, the hunt was expanded by adding 11 days of bowhunting, bringing the total number of hunting days up from 4 to 15. An additional 450 acres of land were also opened to hunting. Despite the increased hunt duration and increased land available, just 67 deer were killed—3 more than the previous record. State and local agencies once again spent thousands of dollars on the hunt, with no significant decrease in the purported deer population to show for it.

In 2018, Governor Baker proposed an Environmental Bond Bill (H. 4318) aimed at increasing climate change resilience, environmental protection, and community investments. At a hearing on the bill, however, legislators questioned the head of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, Secretary Beaton, about unused funds from the original 2014 Environmental Bond Bill, asking why funding that was nominally intended for climate-hazard remediation projects went unspent, while projects promoting hunting interests, including the Blue Hills hunt, were prioritized and executed.

In 2018, an additional 180 acres of land were opened up and 25 hunters added to the hunt; the hunt remained 15 days long. 72 deer were killed—just 5 more than the previous year.

In 2019, there will be 13 hunt days (2 fewer than in 2018), but still more acreage and hunters have been added: an additional 110 acres of land and an additional 74 hunters.

The problem:

The above numbers, both in terms of the number of deer killed and the use of Environmental Bond Bill funds, raise serious concerns. That roughly the same number of deer have been killed every year since 2015, despite opening the hunt to hundreds more acres and adding 11 more days, calls into question the accuracy of deer population estimates in the Blue Hills. Further, while 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, a revised count using a different methodology revealed only 55 deer per square mile.

Yet DCR continues to assert that the hunt is necessary to control a high deer population that is purportedly damaging Blue Hills forest ecology. No current scientific studies, however, suggest that there is a deer overpopulation problem in the Blue Hills or that, even if there were, it would be the sole cause of the Blue Hills’s declining forest health. Contact your legislators and ask them to support H.757, a bill that would mandate a study and scientific survey of the Blue Hills to help determine the causes of the forest’s declining health and inform the most effective solutions.

The truth about deer overpopulation:

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%—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 wounds. These abandoned deer endure prolonged suffering, and passersby, hikers, and others 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 led communities to increase deer hunting in a futile attempt to reduce the threat of Lyme disease. In fact, the science is conclusive that there is no correlation between deer population and tick prevalence.[ii] Ticks do not require a specific host and can thrive by feeding on mice and other small animals. When deer numbers are reduced, ticks simply find other hosts, some of which can actually more efficiently transmit bacterial infection, increase the risk to human 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 Boston Globe article on the Deer-Lyme disconnect and “why new hunting programs aren’t going to check the spread of the disease,” and check out the book Lyme Disease – The Ecology of a Complex System, and learn 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 the forest health in the Blue Hills appears to be declining, the cause remains undetermined and is likely multifaceted. No current scientific research has holistically examined the health of the Blue Hills forest. Rather than conducting a study to scientifically assess Blue Hills forest health, DCR and DFW have turned to outdated studies to justify a deer hunting strategy, which they 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 merely to increase recreational hunting opportunities. Representative Bill Driscoll, however, has filed H.757, a bill that would support a study and scientific survey of the Blue Hills to help determine the causes of the forest’s declining health and inform the most effective solutions.

What can I do?

  1. Contact your state legislators to express opposition to this hunt, the questionable data on the deer population, and the lack of serious attention to alternatives.
  2. If you live in the areas surrounding the Blue Hills—MiltonCantonQuincyBraintreeRandolph and Dedham residents—contact both your local lawmakers (click on your town’s hyperlink to learn who your town officials are) and your state legislators.

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.

[ii] Jordan and Schulze 2005, Ostfeld et al. 2006, Jordan et al., 2007

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