Balch Hill to Open to Hunters
Deer Herd Grows Too Large
Eric Furstenberg of Lyme walks with his daughters, Lizzie, 4, left, and Alice, 3, on the Hemlock Trail of the Balch Hill Nature Area in Hanover, N.H., on Oct. 25, 2013.
Valley News - Sarah Priestap
The summit of Balch Hill Nature Area in Hanover, N.H., on Oct. 25, 2013. Bow hunting of deer will be allowed on a limited basis to hunters with permission in the nature area due to overpopulation by deer.
Valley News - Sarah Priestap
Notices informing visitors of Archery Hunting beginning November 1st on Balch Hill in Hanover, N.H., are posted at each trailhead in the area on Oct. 25, 2013.
Valley News - Sarah Priestap
Hanover — In an effort to cull a dense deer herd, the town will grant hunting permits for the Balch Hill Nature Area, a popular recreation spot minutes away from downtown Hanover.
Hunting will begin Nov. 1 and run through Dec. 15; only bow hunting will be allowed — no firearms.
During the summer, the town received a number of complaints from residents about deer eating gardens and shrubs, and from people concerned that the large deer population might have a link to an increase in Lyme disease.
The town and the nonprofit Hanover Conservancy also were worried about the health of the herd. The deer that have been seen are scrawny, said Town Manager Julia Griffin, because there were more than the area could support. Officials hope hunters will help restore an ecological balance, and in the process save some shrubbery.
“We’re hearing a lot from folks who are beside themselves because their landscapes are being destroyed,” Griffin said. “(The deer) are all so comfortable being around us that you can almost shake a hoof.”
However, now some Balch Hill neighbors are worried allowing hunters on 66 acres that are crisscrossed by recreational trails could pose a safety risk.
Balch Hill is less than two miles east of downtown Hanover and comprises several parcels of land, some of which are owned by the town, others by the Hanover Conservancy and still others by Dartmouth College. At the summit is a cleared grassy area with stone benches where hikers can look down on Dartmouth College. The trails are popular with families and are well-used on the weekends.
Lori Harris lives on Hemlock Road and has children ages 19, 14 and 7. She said her family considers the area to be like a park and that it’s unusual to walk the trails without running into other hikers.
“I don’t know how they can assure safety when it’s literally the exact same trails that families would be on that hunting would be on,” Harris said. “It’s an area I find it hard to reconcile both family hiking and hunting. Accidents happen and this would be an area that you would tend to walk into a lot more hikers.”
Peter Kulbacki, Hanover’s public works director, said he’s convinced the town can safely open Balch Hill to bow hunters, who must acquire a special permit from the public works department, in addition to having a state hunting license.
“We want to make sure that whoever wants a permit, that they understand the restrictions and they have to be willing to go by them,” Kulbacki said. “They have to realize there are a lot of people around this area and we’ve restricted hunting in the past for reasons.”
There hasn’t been hunting on Balch Hill for about a decade, and Kulbacki said he’s most concerned that hunters will hit a deer with a bow and it will then take off downhill.
“What’s downhill? Houses,” Kulbacki said. “If you wound an animal and it travels, they go quite a distance. That’s something that a hunter doesn’t want to deal with either.”
The town will control how many hunters are on the hill at once. Kulbacki said he hasn’t settled on a number, but that he’ll probably limit it to two or three.
Kulbacki said he’s more concerned that hunters won’t show any interest, and for the same reason as neighbors such as Harris are alarmed.
“Speaking with hunters, they’re worried about the same things as residents,” Kulbacki said. “They don’t want the general public seeing those activities.”
He said the town likely will issue just a handful of permits.
Adair Mulligan, executive director of the Hanover Conservancy, stressed the need to cull the deer herd, which has been studied recently by Dartmouth ecology students. The conservancy has found that the Balch Hill deer are decimating the natural vegetation, allowing for more invasive plants to grow.
Additionally, a survey distributed to Balch Hill neighbors in 2011 found “strong support” for using hunting as a tool to control the deer herd, although Mulligan said the opinion wasn’t unanimous.
Eric Furstenberg, of Lyme, was walking the trails with his two daughters, 3-year-old Alice and 4-year-old Lizzie, on Friday afternoon. He said his family comes to Balch Hill several times a year and said he would still visit the area while there was hunting. But he would make sure to wear bright colors, stay on the trails and keep his daughters close.
“It’s fine with me if they take the deer. There’s tons of them. We just saw one,” Furstenberg said.
Kulbacki agreed that hikers don’t need to avoid the trails, but said they should take precautions by wearing orange vests and placing bells or other noise makers on pets. The conservancy has already posted orange signs notifying visitors that hunting will be allowed, and information about the program is being mailed to neighbors.
The town and Dartmouth also will allow firearm hunting this year on the Hudson Farm property, which is east of Balch Hill on Trescott Road, closer to Etna Village, as well as on a Dartmouth property that is south of Trescott and East Wheelock roads near the Appalachian Trail.
To acquire a permit, hunters can visit the public works department on Route 120 between 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, or call 603-643-3327.
Sarah Brubeck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3223.