Blue Hills Forest Health, Deer Population and Culling to be Independently Studied
BOSTON, OCT. 11 – The Massachusetts House and Senate have passed legislation to require an independent scientific study of the environmental health of Blue Hills Reservation. The bill was signed by the Governor this week.
“I am hopeful that the independent study will be an important step in understanding how to best protect and manage the Blue Hills. We all want the forest to thrive, but the annual deer culling program continues to be controversial and I share the concerns held by many,” said State Representative Bill Driscoll (D-Milton), who led the effort to secure the study.
Originally filed by Rep. Driscoll as a standalone bill, the proposal was later included as part of the Commonwealth's Fiscal Year 2020 (FY20) budget package. The legislation includes several elements which have not been utilized in previous Department of Conversation and Recreation (DCR) and Department of Fish and Game studies or management plans for the Blue Hills. The new study is required to be independent and includes items such as tagging of deer, aerial surveying of deer population, among other methods, and a review of the practice of hunting as a means to control deer population in the Blue Hills.
Leading up to the bill's passage, Rep. Driscoll said, “It is believed that the aerial survey, using thermal imaging, will give a much better snapshot in time of the actual deer census and that the tagging of animals for study provides a feedback loop for scientific research now and in the future. If we really want to understand how the population is behaving and fluctuating then tagging and tracking is key."
In addition to provisions regarding deer in the Blue Hills, the study will also shed light on the overall health of the forest, including plant, animal and insect life, and any contributing factors responsible for any decline in forest health as well as the effect of ecological and climate changes.
“I’ve never been a proponent of controlled public hunts in the Blue Hills; my chief concern is the presence of weapons and public safety. If the results of the independent study come back and say that the deer population needs to be further reduced, then other methods should be utilized.”
Driscoll has filed another piece of legislation to address the primary concerns of many stakeholders. If passed, H.3764 would mandate that non-lethal contraceptive measures be used instead of lethal means when an overpopulation of animals is responsible for the degradation of a state park's ecosystem.
“Utilizing non-lethal contraceptive methods would remove weapons from hiking trails, reduce the harmful animal population, and provide further tagging and tracking feedback to state park managers.”
Though acknowledging the work ahead, Rep. Driscoll expressed gratitude for the supportive efforts of his colleagues, "I would like to thank my colleagues on the FY20 budget conference committee, especially House Ways and Means Chairman Aaron Michelwitz for his attention to this issue during negotiations."