By BRAD RICH
Tideland News Writer
Emerald Isle’s deer hunt started as scheduled on Jan. 6, and was going smoothly by week’s end.
In fact, Town Manager Frank Rush said Friday, there have been no real complaints, either on philosophical grounds or about specific incidents.
“Probably because the hunting is during the early morning hours and late afternoons and in relatively isolated hours, my feeling so far is that if we hadn’t told people it was going on, most wouldn’t even know,” Rush said.
Town commissioners approved the deer hunt late last year by a unanimous vote as a means to thin a deer population that has rapidly increased in recent years.
The animals, particularly in the Coast Guard Road area, have become so numerous that they have become a nuisance – eating vegetation – and a hazard, posing threats to motorists.
The town police department and the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission conducted a deer population survey on the nights of Sept. 17 and 18, and estimated that there were 159 deer in the Coast Guard Road area. In a letter to Rush, WRC Executive Director Gordon Myers said the density of deer there was two to three times higher than in surrounding areas, and nearly twice the density of the first estimate back in 2005.
In that letter, Myers wrote that the WRC “strongly endorses hunting as a tool to manage deer,” but noted that past efforts in Emerald Isle had taken relatively few animals: 11 in January and February 2010 and 17 in the same general time period in 2012.
Myers wrote in the memo to Rush that simply to maintain the deer population as it is – known as “maximum sustainable yield” – the town would need to remove about 48 deer per year. To actually reduce the population, the town would need to remove 50 to 75 deer.
“To maintain a healthy deer population at a socially acceptable density, lethal removal will be necessary annually or every other year thereafter,” he added.
There’s no way to know for sure whether the town’s hunt can or will reach that level, but Rush said the effort got off to a good start this year, with six deer taken between Monday and Wednesday of last week.
That, he said, was an especially promising rate because those were very cold days; temperatures were in the teens in the morning both days and the high was below freezing Tuesday afternoon.
Still, even with the good start, Rush said he believes it will be necessary to continue the hunt through February, as planned.
The manager added that he’s glad the hunt seems to be less controversial than in 2010 and 2012, and offered several reasons.
“It’s not new now,” he said. “We’ve done this a couple of times, and I think people are just more accepting of it. And they are more aware, because the population is two or three times what it has been in the past.”
Finally, Rush said, “There have been an unusually high number of vehicle-deer collisions, so people probably see the need for it more than they might have in the past.”
Rush stressed that a deer hunt is not something the town wants to do.
“But,” he added, “there really isn’t any alternative. People talk about tranquilizing the deer and relocating them, but that assumes that you have a practical place to relocate them to. We don’t have that.”
And tranquilizing and relocating them can be fatal, too. “We’re just at a point where this is something we need to do.”
All hunting is to occur on weekdays until Feb. 28, from 5 to 9 a.m. and from 3 to 6 p.m., except that the Wyndward Court/Coast Guard Road wetland tract and the Point Emerald Villas tract will not be available for hunting in the morning.
The other authorized areas are: Bell Cove Village/Osprey Ridge; Bluewater Bay North; Bogue Banks Water Corp./Canal Drive; Emerald Isle Woods; Point Emerald Villas; Royall Oaks; and Sea Oats.
All deer meat taken during the hunt will be donated to the hungry and/or homeless.
All hunting takes pluce under the supervision of the Emerald Isle Police Department.