The 2020 Blue Hills Deer Management Plan is available on the mass.gov website. (There is currently no information available regarding the 2021 Blue Hills Deer Management Permitted Hunt.)
Archery: The 2020 season took place from November 16-December 3 (M-Th), with 225 archers selected via lottery. This was the same number of archers as in 2019, and 125 more archers than in 2018. The amount of land being used was the same as in 2019, at 2,622 acres. DCR opened an additional 1,666 acres in 2019 to archery hunting compared to 2018.
Shotgun: There was no shotgun season in 2020.
2019-2020 Legislation: H. 757, An Act to study the health of the Blue Hills Forest and ecology to inform long-term reservation management, introduced by Representative Bill Driscoll, passed the legislature in a modified form as part of the budget and was signed by the Governor: see Chapter 84, An Act Relative to the Environmental Health of the Blue Hills Reservation. In its original form, the bill required both a study of the Blue Hills’ forest health as well as a moratorium on hunting while the study was being conducted; however, the moratorium was removed by the Governor. Thus, the law, as is, requires the University of Massachusetts to select an independent scientific organization to conduct a study and survey of the environmental health of the Blue Hills Reservation and does not require a moratorium on hunting while the study is conducted.
Prior to 2015, hunting in the Blue Hills had been prohibited for more than 100 years.
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 bow hunting, 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, 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 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 2019, there is a total of 13 hunt days (2 fewer than 2018), but still more acreage and hunters have been added: an additional 110 acres of land and an additional 74 hunters. On October 7, 2019, the Governor signed into law language requiring a study of the Blue Hills forest health. (see above)
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.
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%[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 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 an article on the deer-Lyme disconnect, 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.
What can I do?
- Contact your state legislators to express opposition to the hunt, the questionable data on the deer population, and the lack of serious attention to alternatives.
- If you live in the areas surrounding the Blue Hills — Milton, Canton, Quincy, Braintree, Randolph 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.
[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