This past week, a Wilton resident reported via SeeClickFix what s/he believed to be illegal hunting on the town-owned Vista Rd. property, after spotting corn feed piles placed to attract deer, a hunter’s tree stand and motion detection cameras there.
GOOD Morning Wilton spoke with Wilton’s Environmental Affairs director Mike Conklin to clarify whether or not the items spotted by the resident constitute illegal hunting activity or if they were placed there with the town’s knowledge.
According to Conklin, the items spotted by the resident were there legally, positioned by a hunter participating in the town’s controlled deer hunt. Every year during deer hunting season, Wilton officials oversee a controlled deer hunt within the town from September through January. Properties included in the hunt are closed to the public during that time.
Conklin provided information about hunting on Wilton’s town-owned properties that readers may find educational.
What is the town’s “controlled deer hunt”?
Mike Conklin: Wilton runs a controlled hunt on properties that are owned by the town, the Wilton Land Conservation Trust, and the Second Taxing District Water Company. This controlled hunt is managed and overseen by the Deer Management Committee and facilitated by my office.
One of the parcels that we have closed to the public [until Feb. 1, 2020] for the controlled hunt is the Vista Rd. property and the adjacent properties, which are owned by the Land Trust.
Vista is closed from Sept. 15 to Jan. 31, with some exceptions–Nov. 28 and 29, and Dec. 24 and 25. Notification letters were sent to property owners within 500 feet of this park and the park entrances have been posted.
‘Closed’ means residents in the public are prohibited from entering?
To clarify, the town–specifically, my department–notified residents within 500 feet of this property, by regular mail that the park would be closed. We sent every homeowner a letter and at all of the park entrances, we have fluorescent orange signs specifically saying that the park is closed for the controlled hunt with the dates.
So, when people ignore the signs, those people could be creating a safety issue because they’re disregarding the rules and the posted signs, and they’re just sort of doing what they want. So it disrupts our hunt program specifically.
We would just really ask people to follow the posted rules in our parks. So when our parks are posted closed, that means closed for everybody. And we would ask people to follow the signage that the town of Wilton posts.
On the SeeClickFix report, the resident posted pictures of wildlife a monitoring video camera and also some corn feed on the ground. and noted seeing a hunter’s tree stand.
MC: There are probably more than one camera out there. Many times the cameras–I believe this specifically is one of the cameras–actually have a cell service attached to them and every time a picture is taken, it’s sent back to the hunter so they can see what triggered the camera. It’s a motion sensor.
In each of our parcels that we hunt, each hunter is required to set up a tree stand, and we request that they also set up a corn feeder. Usually there isn’t a pile because it gets eaten by raccoons and other wildlife within a day or so. The hunters are always hunting in a downward trajectory, so they’re not taking any shots in an outward direction. They’re aiming down into the ground.
During the time of hunting, there are different types of gear seasons where hunters are able to use different implements. Right now, for the month of January, it’s archery only–which is a bow and arrow or crossbow.
What other implements could they use at other times?
MC: It depends on the property, but as an example, at Vista Rd. the hunters are allowed to use all implements, which includes firearms during certain points. Right now it is archery only there. Some properties are always archery only. It’s typically based on the size of the parcel. The state of Connecticut has requirements as to when a firearm can be discharged and used in hunting. Only the larger parcels are available for firearms hunting.
When the feed is put out, does that signal that the hunter is present or can the hunter remotely trigger the feeder?
MC: Connecticut’s broken up into, I believe, 12 zones by DEEP–who, by the way, regulates all of the hunting in Connecticut. All of our hunters follow all of the state rules and guidelines. In our zone, (Zone 11), zones 11 and 12 allow mechanical, timed feeders. They’re set on a timer to attract deer for a certain time of day to increase the chance of the hunters harvesting a deer.
They use the camera, which has a time and date stamp on it, first to figure out if where they set up their stand, if there’s any deer in that area, so the hunter doesn’t have to sit out there day in and day out; now we can use motion cameras to determine where the deer are and when they’re there, because they’re creatures of habit and typically walk the same paths every day.
So what was posted on SeeClickFix about feeders being illegal was incorrect or a misconception?
SeeClickFix is a wonderful tool and I’m very happy that we have it for residents and town employees to be able to use it as far as a reporting tool. But we’re not getting into protracted conversations on SeeClickFix. That’s why I asked that person just to give me a call if they have questions or whatnot, that we’re not going back and forth through this outlet.
Do the properties that are chosen vary year to year?
MC: Every year the Deer Management Committee reviews the results from the previous year’s hunt and then they come up with a new hunt plan over the next year. The hunt plan is then presented to the Conservation Commission for approval and then to the Board of Selectmen for approval.
[Vista Rd.] is one of many properties that we are hunting this year.
Which other town properties are closed for the controlled hunt?
MC: For the rest of this month: Belknap Preserve, Wrens Thicket, the Gregg Preserve, the Rimer Preserve off Deer Run Rd., Coulhane, Chessor Lane Parcel, St. John’s/Chicken Street Parcel, Seeley Rd./Pen Central Parcel, Quail Ridge/Honey Hill Parcel, Middlebrook Farm Parcel, and Thayer Pond Parcel, as well as properties in the water company [land]–the Second Taxing District Water Company, which are always closed to residents and pedestrians. That’s private property so people shouldn’t be in there at all.
How do they decide which properties to include in a year?
MC: If deer are consistently harvested from a property, and if the property is larger in size, that would be one that would be most likely hunted. Some smaller properties, and if the hunters for whatever reason weren’t able to harvest deer–for example, if the deer management committee had closed a property for hunting but no deer were even observed–that might be one that they don’t close the next year. They’ll move efforts towards other properties.
Is there a goal for the number of deer harvested per year?
MC: The total number of deer harvested in Wilton has consistently been at approximately 125 deer per year. This would include people within the controlled hunt as well as other hunters.
The purpose of the control hunt is to reduce the deer population in our area. When the town started the program, there were over 77 deer per square mile in our area–that was a study done by CT DEEP (Department of Energy and Environmental Protection).
In 2015, DEEP did another study and found that we’ve reduced the deer population to approximately 44 deer per square mile. A healthy ecosystem would have around 13 deer per square mile. So we’re still not where we want to be in terms of deer population.
What are the markers of a healthy ecosystem? How is it determined what is too high for it to be ‘healthy’?
MC: There are three main reasons why we want to reduce the deer population. The first one is vehicular accidents–car/deer accidents. There is data published by the state that shows that the number of vehicle/deer accidents is going down through the time that we’ve had the control hunt.
The second reason is to reduce the presence of Lyme disease in our town. The tick that carries Lyme disease needs two hosts: it needs the white footed mouse (or another small–typically it’s the white footed mouse, but it could use something like a chipmunk) for the beginning stage of its life; and in its final stage of life, they need a blood meal from the white tail deer. So by reducing the white tail deer population, we will be reducing the presence of Lyme disease in Wilton.
The third thing is the pressure to our local forest and ecosystem within our town. When there are leaves on the trees and you walk in the woods, you will notice that both pretty much below four feet is barren, open. The deer have pretty much eaten all of the leaves on everything, from their head to the ground. In doing so they’ve allowed more invasive species to take over because they typically don’t eat much of these invasive species.
Many of the spring ephemeral plants and native wildflowers are prime targets for deer browse. So we’ve lost many of our native wildflowers in this area to over-browsing from deer.That deer pressure also goes into people’s properties, where they browse residential vegetation right up against people’s houses.
Is there anything else you want people to know?
MC: The town of Wilton has vetted, we have approximately 45 hunters that are in our program. We also have a homeowner match program where we can match one of our vetted hunters with a homeowner to hunt on private, residential property. Right now we have four residences where hunters are hunting. But hunters that are not part of our program could hunt other properties outside of our program.
Meaning, if John Smith doesn’t want to go through the town of Wilton and just wants to have his nephew on his property, he’s allowed to do that. They still have to have a hunting license and have taken the Connecticut DEEP Hunter Safety Course, and have all the proper tags and everything. They also need written permission from the homeowner. So Mr. Smith would have to fill out a homeowner permission slip, allowing his nephew to hunt the property.
The DEEP game wardens, which oversee hunting in Connecticut, they work closely with the town of Wilton and the Wilton Police Department on hunting related issues–which thankfully, we haven’t had any this year.
We’re having a successful deer hunt his year, with no reported injuries or accidents. We’ve never had a deer hunting related accident, which is good news. And the deer committee regularly meets to review this information.
One thing that’s important to mention–the deer that are harvested, the hunters typically use to feed their families. But they also have an opportunity to donate the meat, through different butchers, to a program called Hunters for the Hungry, where that excess meat would go to soup kitchens throughout the greater New York City area.
Could any of the participating hunters donate meat to Wilton food pantry?
MC: Maybe.We have discussed it with them. We’re working with Social Services on that.