With autumn comes the beginning of the annual controlled deer hunt in Brookfield — regulated bow hunting on town properties designed to cull the herd, which has gone from an estimated 10-12 per square mile in colonial times to more than 60 per square mile in Brookfield today.
To give an economic perspective of the impact this can have — from motor vehicle accidents to treatment and prevention of tick-borne diseases — a study from the Fairfield County Municipal Deer Alliance (FCMDA) estimates that overpopulation costs Fairfield County towns almost $180 million a year and an estimated $5,132,759 for Brookfield residents, or $4,718 per single-family household. [See chart attached.]
At approximately 19.8 square miles (excluding bodies of water) and, conservatively, 60 deer per square mile, there are some 1,188 deer in Brookfield. Divide $5,132,759 by the estimated deer population and each deer in Brookfield costs $4,320 annually in damages.
Deer not only eat shrubbery and cross roads unexpectedly at night, they are also breeding grounds for ticks, which carry diseases like Lyme and, more recently, Ehrlichiosis (Anaplasmosis) and Babesiosis, both of which have seen a recent up tick in reported cases, according to Brookfield Health Director Dr. Raymond Sullivan.
“We are seeing less and less Lyme disease and more and more of the other two,” he said. “There has been a big shift.”
Reported cases of Lyme in Brookfield dropped from 22 to 14 from 2010 to 2011, while instances of Ehrlichiosis tripled, from seven to 21, and cases of Babesiosis almost quadrupled, from four to 15.
The spread of these diseases is directly relatable to ticks and their ability to spawn on the growing deer population.
During their reproductive cycle, ticks need a steady supply of blood from a mammal and deer are the perfect hosts, Chairman of the regional HVCEO Lyme Disease Task Force and Brookfield resident (and former first selectman) Jerry Murphy explained, with 200-300 ticks in the average deer’s ear alone.
By controlling the deer population, Murphy is optimistic that the related tick-borne illnesses will go away, too.
“If we can get them down to 10 per square mile, tick diseases go away,” he said.
The FCMDA estimates approximately $543,206 is spent annually treating Brookfield residents suffering from the short- and long-term effects of Lyme disease alone. That figure rises to over $19 million for all of Fairfield County.
“Fairfield County has a really big problem,” said Brookfield resident Russell Cornelius, founding member of the Brookfield Lyme Disease Task Force and local representative to FCMDA, who has been working to educate residents and communities about the dangers of tick-borne illnesses and the need to control deer populations.
There are three options when looking to reduce the population: relocation, contraception or hunting.
Relocation is not a viable option, according to Cornelius, as 40-50 percent tend to die in transit due to stress and areas to relocate the herds to are now almost non-existent.
Contraception is a more humane method, however it can be incredibly time consuming to track and spay or neuter enough deer to make a difference and is cost-prohibitive at over $1,000 per animal.
Brookfield has opted for the third option since 2008 with an annual “controlled hunt,” allowing bow hunters to set up in certain areas of town-owned property during the hunting season. (No firearm hunting is allowed on town property.)
The hunts are “controlled,” Cornelius explained, since the hunters are “as cautious and safe as possible,” positioned in the trees and shooting at a downward angle (“Not running around the forest shooting at anything that moves”) and attract the deer to specific areas using feeders.
“If you were just walking through the woods — to the untrained eye — you wouldn’t even see them,” he said.
They are also required to carry insurance and registered with the town for a permit.
Cornelius said the hunters take approximately 50-60 deer during an average season.
“It’s little more than a token effort,” he admitted, “But it’s something.”
Cornelius said he would like to see the town’s deer population managed by a professional entity, such as the U.S. Department of Wildlife Services or private companies like White Buffalo that specialize in ecosystem management.
Until that time, Cornelius welcomes any interested hunters to contact him about hunting on his private property in Brookfield (775-8010) or any of the 800 acres of town land open during the season.
Hunting season started September 15 and runs through January 31.