November 18, 2012

Island takes deer problem by the horns

Islesboro residents will attempt to cull the herd to reduce the incidence of Lyme disease with their first-ever shotgun hunt.

By Deirdre Fleming
Staff Writer

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Fred Thomas sits behind a year’s worth of research that he collected as chairman of the Islesboro Deer Reduction Committee. “It’s been quite a task,” Thomas said.

Photos by Deirdre Fleming/Staff Writer

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“The deer have nowhere to go,” said Linda Gillies, a member of Islesboro’s Tick-Borne Disease Prevention Committee.

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On Islesboro, two deer pellet counts conducted in 2010 and 2011 showed between 50 and 60 deer per square mile, Kemper said.

The percentage of ticks collected on Islesboro that were carrying the Lyme disease bacteria has increased from 24 percent in 2006 to 49 percent in 2010, Rand said.

The medical community has generally believed that a deer population must be reduced to about 10 animals per square mile to effectively lower the percentage of deer ticks carrying the bacteria.

Rand said that's never been proven in Maine, but the Islesboro hunt could confirm it.

"It's a guess," Rand said. "But there have been studies in Connecticut that show when you get below that density of deer, Lyme disease cases decrease. But that number needs to be nailed down. That's why were interested in Islesboro."


Islesboro is 12 miles long, with a long cedar swamp in the center and ample woodlands throughout. The town center is nothing more than a crossroad. But Islesboro is a close-knit community.

The village has a modern, well-used community center; the renovated grade school, paid for with private money, overlooks the ocean; and a friendly, helpful spirit surrounds the ferry terminal.

When the town approved the shotgun hunt Aug. 24, it marked a significant milestone in the island's history, and feelings remain mixed.

Islesboro native Barbara Pendleton is one of the 25 residents who voted against the hunt. Pendleton grew up in a hunting family -- her father and uncles went to a deer camp in northern Maine every fall. But the planned large-scale reduction of the island's herd upsets her.

"We don't have much wildlife on the island," said Pendleton, 67. "We've grown up with these creatures. They are so fun to observe."

However, Fred Thomas, chairman of the town's Deer Reduction Committee, said they have no choice.

"I was on the fence when we started," said Thomas, a hunter and another island native. "It's been no small task. We felt in order for people to be comfortable with it, we'd have to hold a shotgun hunt." (A shotgun doesn't shoot as far as a rifle.)

Summer resident Ken Senior, who contracted Lyme disease this summer, favors the hunt.

"After I got it, a lot of people on the island told me they had it," said Senior, who lives in Waltham, Mass. "Some told me they had it twice. It should be a real call to action."

Charlie Leighton, a summer resident from Middletown, R.I., is not a hunter but wants the herd culled.

"I know people who are really debilitated from the disease," Leighton said. "I had a friend who used to play tennis who can't play anymore. They're wonderful animals, but there are just too many of them."


Special deer reduction hunts requested by towns and approved by the state are not unusual. Other such hunts have taken place in Orono on Marsh Island, in Cape Elizabeth and in Wells at the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve.

But on Islesboro the residents designed a very unusual Islesboro-only hunt, and they are in a position to offer an important case study, Rand said.

The hunters will have taken a test that included showing proficiency with a shotgun from 25 yards; and they'll be responsible for killing as many deer as possible.

At least 30 approved hunters will take to the field from Dec. 10 to 31 for a whitetail hunt with no bag limit.

Then island residents and researchers will wait to see whether an island community on its own can lower the deer population density.

Rand said in similar island hunts, a sharpshooter or team of bow hunters was used to decrease the deer population. And at least in Monhegan's case, the sharpshooter who removed 52 deer from the island in 1996 in a matter of days did so quickly and discreetly, but at a cost of $20,000.

Islesboro's hunt is not cost prohibitive. It will take longer than Monhegan's. But, Rand said, the do-it-yourself approach will work.

"I think there is some real hope for long-term lasting effects. They want to make it an exemplary hunt. They seem to be doing that," Rand said. 

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

Twitter: Flemingpph


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