State to implement controlled deer hunt in Quabbin Park

  • White-tailed deer, like this one in Buckland, are ravaging Quabbin Watershed forests. FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • A view from the tower at the Quabbin Reservoir. According to the state Department of Conservation and Recreation, forests around the reservoir are under stress because of an overbundance of deer. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Quabbin Reservoir. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Path through the woods by the old orchard at the Quabbin Reservoir. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Old Orchard at the Quabbin Reservoir. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 7/10/2019 12:07:40 AM

BELCHERTOWN — A state agency plans to add Quabbin Park to a controlled hunting program intended to manage the overly large deer population in the area.

According to the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, the overpopulation of white-tailed deer in the area is damaging the surrounding forest and having a “direct impact on water quality.”

The DCR will host a public informational meeting at the Belchertown Town Hall auditorium next Monday at 7 p.m. to discuss the program, which is known as the White-Tailed Deer Controlled Hunt 2019 Plan. The hunt will take place in December this year and may result in a park closure for up to two days, according to DCR.

Controlled hunts can limit the number of days when hunting is allowed, the number of hunters participating, and provide access to areas that are usually off-limits, or a combination of these restrictions.

The Quabbin Watershed is responsible for protecting the reservoir, and current levels of deer browsing pose “a serious threat to the health and reproductive future of forests in the watershed,” according to DCR. The state agency says these browsing habits have led to issues such as a shortage of understory tree growth, lack of forest floor vegetation and a lack of biodiversity in the area.

“One of the problems (white-tailed deer cause) in forested ecosystems is that they just eat everything,” Bethany Bradley, an associate professor of environmental conservation at the University of Massachusetts Amherst said in an interview with the Gazette.

This diet includes understory plants, saplings and seedlings of the new generations of trees, Bradley said. But a problematic exception to this tendency to eat everything is that the deer avoid non-native plants, she said, which fosters the growth of invasive species.

The Gazette made several attempts to talk with a DCR expert on the situation Monday and Tuesday, but the agency declined to make one available for an interview.

Surrounding forestry helps protect water quality in the Quabbin Reservoir by helping to regulate streamflow and prevent erosion, according to the meeting notice issued by the DCR.

Surveys show the area hosts approximately 40 to 90 deer per square mile, and a healthy deer density for a watershed environment such as Quabbin Park is below 20 deer per square mile, according to the DCR. In addition, white-tailed deer do not have natural predators in the state, which has allowed their numbers to “expand unchecked,” according to the state agency.

Bradley also noted the a lack of natural predators has contributed to the surplus white-tailed deer population in the area.

“We do need to work harder on controlling deer populations,” Bradley said. “The thinking on deer is a big reason that they’re not controlled is that we also hunted to extinction the eastern mountain lion [and] the eastern wolves, so we have lost those top predators that would have controlled those populations historically in the idealized ecosystem.”

Eastern wolves can still be found in Canada, but they are extinct locally. 

“So if we want to actually control the deer population, we’d have to become the top predator,” Bradley said. “The challenge with that is we would need to become the top predator for a long period of time.”

Hunting has been permitted in the Quabbin Watershed since 1991, but Quabbin Park was not included in the division's white-tailed deer management program “for the purpose of experimenting with hunting alternatives,” such as electric fencing, which were ultimately deemed ineffective, according to DCR. Hunting is not currently allowed in the park.

Controlled hunts in Massachusetts already take place on the Quabbin Reservation, Blue Hills Reservation in Norfolk County, Wachusett Reservoir Watershed in Worcester County, Camp Edwards on Joint Base Cape Cod and Templeton Developmental Center lands.

According to DCR, the program has been successful in other areas, with the deer population in all areas outside of Quabbin Park “substantially reduced within the first few years of the hunt.” 

Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at jvoghel@gazettenet.com. 


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