Plan to cull deer on Block Island delayed

Visitors to the Southeast Lighthouse walk about its grounds on New Shoreham, R.I., July 25, 2002. (AP Photo/Victoria Arocho)

With a land area of just 10 square miles, and no predators, state environmental officials estimate the deer population of Block Island this year is roughly 800.

"The conservation community was engaged. The scientific community was engaged. And it became obvious that the deer herd really was impacting the ecosystem. It turns out to be eight to 10 times what should be out there," said Cathy Sparks, of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management.

The New Shoreham Town Council reached out to DEM for assistance. State environmental officials suggested the town hire the non-profit group White Buffalo, which has a track record of reducing deer populations.

The five-year contract was $129,000 a year, to kill 200 deer per year.

"We've been asked to help the community formally, and we have formally agreed," Sparks said.

However, the contract, which was supposed to start Monday, will be delayed until the fall because of a number of issues - snow-cover that ruined bait and the use of noise suppressors on the weapons to be used which is prohibited by state law.

John Lewis is a decades-long farmer on the island who opposes the project.

"If you're talking to the people that want to get rid of the deer because of Lyme disease, the fauna and flora and their $10,000 landscaping gardens. Then there's 1,500 deer out there. If you talk to the hunters that are trying to hunt them, then there's probably 400 to 500 deer out here," he said.

Lewis said he believes the job can be done without the group and would like to see local hunters cull the population on their own.

"They were worried about liabilities. They exposed all of us here," he said.

The DEM said White Buffalo has the support of law enforcement in cities and states where they've operated safely in the past.

There were no deer in modern times on Block Island until they were reintroduced in 1967, with the approval of the Town Council.