‘Oh deer’: DNRT proposes a management plan for the trouble a-hoof

May 19, 2024

The Dartmouth Natural Resource Trust has drafted a management plan to help with the overpopulation of white-tailed deer, which would allow for limited bow hunting on its properties without trails.

At its annual meeting held at Friends Academy Wednesday, May 15, DNRT Executive Director Nick Wildman said in drafting this plan, the DNRT had two goals in mind: safety and responsible land management. 

According to the DNRT, Mass Wildlife estimates that there are 30 to 50 deer per square mile in eastern Massachusetts, and a recent survey by Mass Audubon at Allens Pond Sanctuary in Westport counted 56 deer per square mile.

In 2023, Dartmouth Police recorded 1,803 interactions between people in cars and with deer. In addition, the overpopulation of deer has had a major impact on crops and the understory in forests, which is the layer of trees and shrubs between the forest floor and canopy, reducing its ability to regenerate, according to Wildman.

“Ultimately the DNRT, being the [owner] of nearly 2,000 acres, has a role in this — we don't exist in a bubble,” he said.

Other organizations have already begun to do their part, Wildman said, adding how the plan has been modeled after similar ones on the state level. Hunters would have to apply with the DNRT, undergo a screening process and follow all state hunting laws.

Individuals approved by the DNRT would only be permitted to use bows when hunting on DNRT owned properties — not including conservation restriction properties — and would not include those with trails. Wildman said if a hunter comes across someone while out on a property they would be trained to identify themselves and answer any questions the person may have. 

Hunters would report back to the DNRT weekly with information regarding their hunts. They would also be encouraged to donate venison to the state’s Share the Harvest Program, which serves those facing food insecurity. 

He said while this program will by no means solve the population problem, it may contribute to a long-term solution.

DNRT members made suggestions for the plan, including adding signage to properties where hunting is taking place for extra measure.

Wildman emphasized this does not mean DNRT properties are open to hunting and the trust will continue to enforce its no firearms policy and remove any unauthorized hunting equipment.

“We're going to be communicating early and often with Dartmouth [Police] and the state's environmental police as well as, in some cases, the neighbors of the parcels around places where we'd like to start this program so that they're aware of what's happening on our property,” Wildman said.

He said the feedback from the meeting will be taken back to the Land Management Committee as the DNRT continues to finalize the proposal.