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Hanover Relies on Hunters to Reduce Nuisance Deer Population

  • A deer bounds across the tenth fairway at the Hanover Country Club in front of golfer Pat Pelletier during the 115th New Hampshire Golf Association Amateur tournament in Hanover, N.H., Tuesday, July 10, 2018. Course superintendent Michael Pollard said they take precautions like spray repellant and wrapping shrubs in winter to protect landscaping from browsing deer, and an occasional hoof-print left in the turf of a green needs repair. Deer crossing Route 10 near the course also create a hazard for drivers. "In short, they do have a big impact on our landscaped areas scattered in different places on the course," said Pollard. "Other than that, they donÕt get in the way of golfers or disrupt play. Golfers will just stop and watch them if they do happen to cross the fairways." (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Hunters with New Hampshire permits stretch around the side of the Hanover, N.H., town offices, some waiting for over four hours, to receive one of 100 free permits to shoot two antlerless deer in the town's designated management hunting areas on Wednesday, August 29, 2018. It was the first time the special permits were issued in an effort to control a population of deer that the town says are contributing to over grazing of native plants and residential landscaping, traffic accidents, high incidence of Lyme disease and damaging the health of the deer herd itself. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Dave Dent, of Hanover, walks with his daughters Marin, 4, middle, and Lucille, 8, on Balch Hill in Hanover, N.H., looking for insects before participating in a hawk migration watch on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. One week into archery hunting season, the girls wore orange safety vests provided by the Hanover Conservancy, which owns 20 of the area's 94 acres, at trailheads. In 2013, after a long period during which no hunting was allowed, the popular recreation area surrounded by residential neighborhoods was opened to bow hunting. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • While walking through the Mink Brook Nature Preserve in Hanover, N.H., during the CHaD Half Marathon, Robert Spotswood, of Norwich, right, encountered hunter Spencer LeMay, of Hartford, on his way home after a morning in his tree stand on Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018. Earlier in the season LeMay shot a deer with his bow near Mink Brook, but a fresh rain washed away the blood trail. With help from a licensed leashed dog tracker, he pursued the deer through neighboring residential areas but was not able to locate it. "I think the hardest part for me was questioning my own ability and ethics for bowhunting, but I'm sure if I was presented with the same shot opportunities again, I would take them," he said. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • After taking a knee to shoot at a doe in the Trescott Reservoir Lands in Hanover, N.H., Spencer LeMay, of Hartford, stands before looking for a blood trail on Sunday, Nov. 18, 2018. The shot missed its mark. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Forester Jeff Smith wrote a new management plan for the Trescott Reservoir Lands in Hanover, N.H., in 2010 that includes the goal of returning the forest from plantations of white and red pine to hardwoods more suitable to the area's soils. Deer in large numbers can hinder that goal as they prefer to feed on young native hardwoods, in turn allowing invasives like glossy buckthorn to crowd out desired plants. Smith crouches to examine young pine sprouts beginning to grow in an enclosed portion of the Trescott Lands in Hanover, N.H., Monday, Dec. 5, 2018, where glossy buckthorn was removed with a bulldozer. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • An 86 pound buck with antlers under three inches lies in the back of Spencer LeMay's truck as he registers it at the Lyme Country Store's game check station in Lyme, N.H., Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018. LeMay also took an 84 pound doe on his deer management tag. Both came out of the Trescott Reservoir Lands where deer have learned to refuge over the years when hunting was restricted there. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • "Any animals that come through my kitchen need to be treated with the utmost respect," said Chef Patrick Gobeille, who, for the second year has taught his culinary students at the Hartford Area Career and Technology Center to break down an animal into different cuts of meat with a deer donated by Hanover deer committee member Don Cutter. "That animal gave its life so that we can eat ... the goal is that we're going to utilize every piece of meat on this deer that we can use," he said. Gobeille, right, coaches Trevor LaBrecque, 18, as he separates the muscles of a rear quarter Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018. After cuts were supplied to the hunter and landowner, the class donated 20 pounds of venison to the Upper Valley Haven. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Just a few days after being diagnosed with Lyme disease and beginning treatment with antibiotics, Mike Hannon, of Windsor, shot a 48 pound doe with his bow in the Balch Hill Natural Area in Hanover, N.H. Though deer are a host for the black legged tick that spreads Lyme, Hannon accepts the likelihood of encountering an increasing number of tick species that carry a variety of diseases and is more concerned with the health effects overpopulation has on the animals themselves. Hannon removes his tree stand from Balch Hill after the end of archery season in Hanover, N.H., Monday, Dec. 17, 2018. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Deer roam the campus of Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., on the evening of Monday, Dec. 17, 2018. In an effort to curb the deer population, the town of Hanover distributed 100 special management hunting permits to take antlerless deer within about 3,000 acres of public and private land in town. To date, New Hampshire Fish and Game has recorded 40 deer taken on those tags. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Barbara McIlroy, a member of the biodiversity committee of the Hanover Conservation Commission, counts red trillium, the town's official flower, inside an exclosure in the Tanzi Tract of the Mink Brook Nature Preserve in Hanover, N.H., on Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018. The cage, built in 2015 with the help of an environmental studies class from Hanover High School, protects the native plants from browsing deer and helps monitor the animals' impact on the native wildflower population. McIlroy is expanding the monitoring project with one meter exclosures hoping that plants in the adjacent control plots show signs of recovery as the town's deer management effort progresses. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Hanover — Hanover, known more for its concentration of Ivy League college students than for its prime hunting grounds, in 2018 became the first town in New Hampshire to pilot a special hunting program to deal with deer overpopulation.

The season, which began in September and allowed 100 hunters with special permits to take up to two antlerless deer, closed in the middle of December. Although initial results seem promising, state biologists and town officials still are evaluating how much progress was made in thinning the area herd, which has proved destructive.

Preliminary numbers show that 30 hunters with Hanover’s special permits in the hunting season killed a total of 40 deer across 3,000 acres near downtown, which town officials outlined in a permit application to the state in June as having a high density of deer that needed culling. The land includes the Mink Brook corridor and Balch Hill, both popular recreation spots.

“That’s a 30 percent success rate for hunters. Thirty percent success is high, for sure,” said Dan Bergeron, New Hampshire’s deer project leader. “The statewide average is about a 13 to 14 percent success rate for hunters.”

The state still is processing deer tags, so the final tally won’t be available for several weeks.

As it turns out, more communities than just Hanover may be interested in the results. A number of factors, including the impact of global warming, are making it likely that other towns in New Hampshire will be dealing with too many deer.

“Part of the reason we put this system in place is we see this becoming an issue in the future with more development and more mild winters,” Bergeron said.

Hanover Town Manager Julia Griffin said there isn’t a “magic quota” that would indicate success, and that state Fish and Game officials will make a “fairly organic” determination about whether the program was effective once the final results are in and people provide feedback through surveys and a forum in February.

The topic of thinning the herd in Hanover isn’t new, and is something born out of a long history of little-to-no hunting on posted lands near downtown Hanover, Bergeron said. The deer have harbored there for years, eating plants and shrubs, spreading tick-borne diseases and reducing the health of individual deer.

Town officials and residents for a decade or more have worked to address the overpopulation by opening posted lands up to hunters. The hope has been — and still is — to improve deer health, promote biodiversity, limit the spread of Lyme disease and reduce the number of deer-related motor vehicle crashes.

But with the problem still readily apparent last summer, the town of Hanover applied to the Fish and Game Department to become the first town in the state to offer additional permits to hunters to shoot antlerless deer — specifically doe — in specified “deer management hunting areas.”

A good portion of the land outlined in those areas, which is mostly owned by the town, Dartmouth College and the Hanover Conservancy, has been open to hunting for several years, but the additional permits meant more hunters could take more deer.

The state approved the town’s application, and in August, men and women with a New Hampshire hunting license lined up outside of the Hanover Town Clerk’s Office to get the special permit. Only 100 permits were issued and each came with tags for a hunter to shoot two additional does within the outlined areas.

The permits were gone in less than an hour, and hunters who received them took to the woods between September and December, depending on what they were hunting with — bow, muzzleloader or another type of firearm.

Hunters had the choice of hunting with any of the eligible weapons in the areas of Oak Hill off Lyme Road, which is the forest behind Storrs Pond; Velvet Rocks, which is the land behind the Hanover Co-op; the Trescott Reservoir Lands; Great Hollow, a wooded area near Hypertherm; and parcels near the Connecticut River, south of West Wheelock Street.

Only bow hunting was allowed in the majority of Mink Brook, as well as on Balch Hill. To hunt on Balch Hill or on designated land off Dogford Road, hunters also had to have written permission from the landowner.

Knowing that only bow hunting was allowed in his area and that written permission was necessary, Balch Hill resident Ryan Johnson said he felt safe in his neighborhood.

Johnson, who also is a hunter and a father, said the program was “very controlled,” something that increased the sense of safety.

“The chances of something happening are very low,” Johnson said. “The chances of you getting Lyme disease is way, way higher.”

Damage Done

Although they often are viewed as harmless, deer can be destructive, especially to the forest floor. There is plenty of evidence of such destruction happening in Hanover, said Barbara McIlroy, who is the chairwoman of a Hanover Conservation Commission subcommittee that examined various aspects of the deer population in Hanover.

In high density areas, the deer have eaten native plants, inhibiting regrowth and exacerbating the spread of invasive plants, something that impacts biodiversity, she said.

“The lack of regeneration is real,” said McIlroy, who has been studying trillium, one of the plants deer are known to feast on.

McIlroy has been involved in studies where she cages trillium and watches the stalks grow much taller than the ones on the outside of the cage, an indicator of high deer density, she said.

“I don’t know how long it’ll take to recover from this,” she said. “It will take years.”

Another factor that tells people in the field that there is a deer density problem near downtown Hanover is the size of the average deer harvested in town.

“They have been consistently smaller and smaller,” said Windsor hunter Michael Hannon, who received one of Hanover’s special permits. Hannon has hunting licenses in both New Hampshire and Vermont.

In September Hannon, who hunts on Balch Hill, shot “a mature doe,” meaning it was at least 1½ years old. The doe weighed 48 pounds, just half of what it should weigh, he said.

Hannon thinks genetics has something to do with that, while Bergeron said nutrition could be at play. With more deer, there are fewer food sources, Bergeron said. The last few years have been good natural food years, though, he added.

Another negative impact due to overabundant deer in town is deer-related motor vehicle accidents. Over the past six years in Hanover, the number of such accidents has ranged from 17 to 50 incidents per year, according to town statistics.

Deer also are known to harbor ticks that spread Lyme disease, something Hannon has dealt with firsthand.

Although the number of people with Lyme disease or other tick-borne illnesses in Hanover is comparable to rates in southeastern New Hampshire towns, Hanover’s rate is “significantly higher” than those in other Grafton County towns, according to the town’s permit application.

Hannon isn’t sure where he picked up the infected tick, but in September — before hunting season started — Hannon came down with acute symptoms of fatigue, muscle and joint cramps, headaches and the notorious bull’s-eye on his thigh.

A doctor diagnosed him with Lyme disease on Sept. 13. Just days later, he went hunting on Balch Hill and shot the doe.

Yet Lyme disease isn’t a driving factor for Hannon when talking about the need to curb the deer population.

“The real problem is the health of the animal population,” he said.

The Road Forward

With an array of impacts documented, the town began responding several years ago. For example, in 2011, first-year hunters were allowed to hunt on Trescott Co. lands, which were posted, and in 2012, bow hunters could take deer there.

This new program is the next step in the process to thin the herd.

“We are hopeful we can do this for several years,” said Griffin, the town manager. “A sustained pattern of increased hunting will be important.”

The town will need to reapply for the permits next year.

Griffin heard few to no complaints from residents about the program, likely because the town has had conversations over the years about increased hunting access, she said.

She also said she didn’t hear of any conflicts between residents, hunters and people recreating in the forests in Hanover.

Johnson, the hunter from Balch Hill, didn’t, either.

Johnson didn’t obtain a special permit, but he did go bow hunting a couple of times this season. Although there are more deer on Balch Hill, where he hunts, he said the hunting experience isn’t any easier. (He didn’t get a deer this year.)

“It’s different,” he said.

That’s in large part because it’s a residential area.

“There are a lot of other considerations you have,” such as nearby homes, “versus if you are on a big piece of property,” he said. “You still have to put in the time.”

Hunting in an area like Balch Hill is important, though, he noted.

Deer sense when they are being hunted, so they move to places where they feel safer, he said. During hunting season in Hanover, the deer historically have moved from the outskirts of town onto the once-posted Trescott property, which feeds into several other areas that were part of the controlled hunt this season, including Balch Hill.

“I saw a nice buck walk right in between the houses and stay 5 to 10 feet from the houses,” he said. “They know when they are safe.”

The neighborhood deer may be nice to look at, but their presence has been felt: Johnson said his hydrangeas don’t bloom anymore and he is lucky to get a handful of apples on his trees each season.

Hanover is the only town to distribute the special permits thus far, but any municipality in the state that thinks it has deer densities too high for the existing habitat conditions can apply in an effort to cull the population through recreational hunting.

Hanover resident Don Cutter, who also sat on the deer committee, said there are only a few ways to reduce the population, with local hunters being one of them. Another is to have paid professionals come in and hunt the deer.

“These permits allow the sportsmen and residents of New Hampshire to hunt and use the meat in a positive way,” said Cutter, a hunter who received a special permit and shot a doe.

Cutter said he hopes the town and state enter into an agreement again next year.

So does Dartmouth Outing Club General Manager Rory Gawler, who signed off on the college’s forms to use college-owned land in the controlled hunt.

“The deer shelter here and they are damaging the ecosystems,” Gawler said. “Fish and Game are very careful. ... It’s a significant process and it’s done very responsibly and carefully.”

This isn’t the first time state and town officials have had to come up with a unique approach to handle an animal-related problem in Hanover.

In 2017, officials butted heads over how to address a nuisance black bear named Mink who, along with her yearlings, was habituated to humans. State Bear Project Leader Andrew Timmins ordered Mink and her yearlings be destroyed in May 2017 after the yearlings broke into a Thompson Terrace home in search of food, but later that month, Gov. Chris Sununu intervened following a public outcry about euthanizing the bears. Mink’s yearlings were instead relocated to another part of the state.

And in 2018, Mink was captured and taken to northern New Hampshire, while her latest set of cubs was sent to Lyme to be rehabilitated by bear expert Ben Kilham after officials said they too were becoming bold.

In contrast, officials now are advocating for people to kill the deer. But the two situations are very different — for one main reason, said Bergeron, the leader of the state deer project.

A nuisance bear family is different than an entire population wreaking havoc on a particular area, he said.

“This is population-level issues versus an individual animal,” he said.

Hanover Senior Planner Vicki Smith, who helped facilitate the deer project, recognized that distinction as well.

The deer also didn’t learn their bad behavior from humans like the bears did, she said.

“(Bears) are not a nuisance species like deer are,” she said. “We are not seeing the change of biodiversity of the forest because of bear like we are with deer.”

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@ vnews.com or 603-727-3248.