State officials who oversee the hunting and management of deer will host a rare meeting tomorrow afternoon on the Vineyard - and while there is no formal proposal on the table, spokesmen for the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife said they will accept public comment on the subject of extending the shotgun season for deer.
The meeting begins at 1 p.m. at the Katharine Cornell Theatre in Vineyard Haven. It is the monthly meeting for the seven-member board of the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. Among those attending will be fisheries and wildlife commissioner David Peters.
The board will receive a status report on the deer population and management in the commonwealth from deer biologist William Woytek.
A second presentation on the use of fire in the management of wildlife habitat will be given by Tim Simmons, a restoration ecologist with the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife natural heritage and endangered species program.
Tom O'Shea, assistant director for wildlife with the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, said the board meeting is not a public hearing and there will be no decisions made regarding hunting. But he said board members are interested in the Vineyard perspective on deer management. "We are encouraging people in the community to participate in this meeting, by providing their insight and interest and concerns about the management of deer on Martha's Vineyard," Mr. O'Shea said.
George L. Darey, board member and chairman, comes from Lenox. Closer to the Vineyard, members include vice chairman John Creedon of Brockton and Russell A. Cookingham, of Monument Beach in Bourne. Mr. Cookingham has been on the board since 1989.
John J. Scanlon, a forest project leader with Fisheries and Wildlife, said the board likes to hold its monthly meetings in different parts of the state and it became clear some time ago that a meeting had not been held on the Island in many years. "It's been a long time since we have come to the Island. This gives local folks an opportunity to sit and see them in operation," Mr. Scanlon said.
Mr. Scanlon is better known on the Vineyard as the state biologist who comes down during shotgun season to measure and document the harvested deer at the state-run deer check-in station.
"The population of deer on the Island is very healthy and expanding," Mr. Scanlon said. He said it appears as though the habitat on the Island could support an even larger population, but state wildlife biologists do not only consider the habitat. "We look at the interaction between deer and humans. We call it the cultural capacity," he said, adding: "The population is above where we would like it to be. This is measured in terms of the numbers of deer and car collisions, deer damage to agriculture and landscape crops. Our biggest concern is agriculture. And of course there is public health. Deer are a primary vector for Lyme disease. When you roll all those elements together, the deer numbers are higher on the Vineyard than we'd like to see."
Martha's Vineyard has a one-week shotgun season. Throughout the rest of the state, including Cape Cod and Nantucket, the hunting season is two weeks.
Last year 688 deer were taken on Martha's Vineyard and the Elizabeth Islands during shotgun, bow and arrow and antique firearms seasons. In 2003 602 deer were taken; in 2002 645 deer were taken and in 2001 450 were taken, according to state tallies.
In the second part of the meeting tomorrow Mr. Simmons, who used to work for Sheriff's Meadow Foundation and also The Nature Conservancy, will talk about controlled burns as a tool for habitat management. Nonprofit environmental organizations - including The Nature Conservancy and The Trustees of Reservations on the Island - have been using fire in recent years to manage meadows and forests.
Mr. O'Shea said the state is exploring a wider use of controlled burns for commonwealth properties, including the Manuel F. Correllus State Forest. "People know that natural communities are dependent in part on fire. The state sees this as an important component in habitat management in Southern Massachusetts. It also reduces the fire loads on the landscape," he said.