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Editorial: Rural vs. Suburban; A Culture Clash on Balch Hill

Cultural collisions are hardly unheard of in the Upper Valley, more often than not involving the conflicting sensibilities of newcomers and old-timers. The deer problem on Balch Hill in Hanover features a different sort of clash — one between rural and suburban worlds.

Among the representatives of the rural contingent are the deer themselves, who appear to appreciate the convenience, not to mention the sustenance, of the food that’s available by browsing the landscaping around the homes in the well-to-do neighborhood just east of downtown Hanover. Deer making themselves a nuisance is certainly familiar to those who live in less densely settled places and suffer raids on their vegetable gardens. Better fences, odd and mostly ineffective deterrents, and zen-like equanimity are among the measures that generally help establish some sort of uneasy peace between wildlife and their unwilling hosts.

Such measures, however, offer little protection for ornamental shrubs. Moreover, it’s considerably more challenging for homeowners to shrug off depredations visited upon plants that are expensive, slow-growing and perhaps integral to the attractiveness of their property. As the deer have become more numerous in the Balch Hill neighborhood, so, too, have the complaints received by town officials — along with expressions of concern about the health of the herd. Conservationists are also worried about the impact of the growing deer herd on native vegetation in the Balch Hill Nature Area, a 66-acre preserve that combines properties owned by the town, Hanover Conservancy and Dartmouth College.

The rural world has a perfectly good way of dealing with deer overpopulation, of course, and Hanover officials have decided to avail themselves of it by opening up the nature area to hunting. The town will issue a limited number of bow-hunting permits through November and into December.

Although a survey of the neighborhood indicated strong support for allowing hunters to cull the herd, not everybody is comfortable with the decision. Balch Hill trails, which lead to an open summit offering an impressive view of Dartmouth and the Connecticut River valley, are popular among families, and there’s understandable concern about public safety when hunters and hikers share the same turf. Interestingly enough, Hanover Public Works Director Peter Kulbacki fears that the arrangement will scare off potential hunters because of their discomfort about operating in such close quarters. It’s not just a safety concern, but also a realization that members of the public might take offense at witnessing hunting activities that generally occur deeper in the woods. One concern is that a deer that has been wounded but not killed will flee downhill into the residential neighborhood.

The safety concerns are being addressed. The town plans to limit the number of people hunting in the nature area to two or three at any given time and to insist that they hunt in a way that recognizes that the area is well used. Hikers can take the usual precautions, including wearing bright clothing. Those who don’t feel comfortable sharing the woods with hunters under any circumstances can yield the territory for the short stretch of time when hunting will be allowed.

Resolving the clash of sensibilities, on the other hand, is not so straightforward. To whatever extent hunting is more welcome than it otherwise might be because of the obvious need to control the deer population, this represents an opportunity to bridge the two worlds — one that should spur hunters to overcome their qualms and hikers to come to grips with the reality of rural life. And considering the way the suburban world seems to be extending itself ever further out, heightening the comfort level in transitional zones will become increasingly important.