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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Where the deer and the antelope play under the dark skies


Other hot-button issues at Monday night’s town council meeting included the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s controversial plan to allow hunting of white-tailed deer in the Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge to curb overpopulation and Parks and Recreation Director Jay Primiano’s presentation about the grant he’s submitting to RIDEM to install a lighted practice field for the Chariho football teams at Ninigret Park.

By Linda Felaco

White-tailed deer are overrunning the Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge and destroying the vegetation. And relocating them isn’t an option because deer overpopulation is a widespread problem, so there’s really nowhere to relocate them to, and some of them end up being injured or killed in the process.

So federal wildlife managers want to allow limited hunting, strictly regulated by permit, until a certain number of deer have met their maker.

Why can’t they just neuter the deer? I wondered out loud upon hearing this presentation at Monday night’s town council meeting.

Turned out the gentleman sitting next to me was a font of knowledge on the subject. He said deer birth control doesn’t last long enough to really be effective. But he said there was a really successful program carried out near Vassar where hired sharpshooters were told to shoot a certain number of deer and they went in and out in a matter of hours, done deal. Much safer, quicker, and cleaner than allowing anyone with a deer-hunting license in there. And they even donated the meat to soup kitchens, etc.

And how much of a problem are the deer, really? Tim Quillen of the dog park committee took to the podium to state that he goes to Ninigret Park at dawn most mornings with his grandsons and his dogs and ever since deer-hunting season opened, he’s been hearing pretty much constant gunshots when he’s there, so maybe the problem’s been solved already. And the most deer he’s ever seen in the park at one time is four, and how likely is it that the deer actually know the boundaries of the wildlife refuge and stay within them. And really, the word “refuge” is just not consistent with hunting.

I suppose we could always reintroduce wolves, which are the only natural predators of deer, but that’d probably create more problems than it solves.

There was no real resolution of the issue. Charles Vandemoer, the refuge manager, stated that nothing would happen before November regardless, and that before hunting was permitted, notice would be published in the Federal Register and there’d be opportunity for public comment. Let’s hope the deer will not be overly libidinous between now and then and maybe they won’t have to be shot.

Now for the lights. Because only in Charlestown could providing kids with a safe place to play sports be controversial. And probably only in Charlestown would those kids be put on the agenda after the RI Shoreline Coalition crowd, because our town council president obviously found it more important to attend to the needs of the RISC crowd so they could get back in their Lexuses and head home to Greenwich than to let the Chariho kids get home and to bed on a school night.

The Chariho football teams are currently practicing in the parking lot at the county fairgrounds. I had no idea. To this day, I have scars on my knees from running around on an asphalt playground when I was in elementary school. You’d think this would simply be unacceptable in these more safety-conscious times.

So our parks and recreation director, Jay Primiano, has written a grant to RIDEM to get funding for lighted practice fields in Ninigret Park. New playing fields, and the town wouldn’t even have to shoulder the whole cost! You’d think this would be a no-brainer.

But you’d be wrong.

Anticipating the outcry from the dark skies crowd, Primiano had a representative of Musco Sports Lighting give an elaborate presentation about all the high-tech ways they control the lighting to prevent glare and spill. He talked about a field the company lit near loggerhead turtle breeding grounds where they managed to make sure the lights didn’t affect the turtles, who breed based on the phases of the moon.

But nope, that’s not good enough for Charlestown. Because we’re the last outpost of dark sky on the entire Eastern Seaboard. Never mind that anytime I drive at night, I’m in danger of ending up in a ditch because I can’t even see where the road ends. Dark skies are the only thing that matters, not people. Dark skies and open space.

Except.

What about all those dark, unlit parking lots at Ninigret? It’s not safe! Well duh. So we should light the parking lots for safety reasons, but we can’t have a lighted practice field because of the dark skies. Except who’s going to be parking there at night anyway if we don’t have lighted practice fields.

And so it goes.

Meanwhile, Councilor Marge Frank put in a plea for a lighted tennis court. That’s in the next round of grants, Jay Primiano assured her. First we have to upgrade the court surfaces. It’s in the works.

And for my money—and it is in part my money, seeing as how I’m a taxpayer—I’d much rather give Councilor Frank her lighted tennis courts than buy the YMCA camp. First Lady Michelle Obama has made combatting childhood obesity a priority. Tennis courts are active recreation, not passive. Surely lighted tennis courts will do more good for more people than it would just to buy land to expand the back yards of the Sonquipaug Association. If the Sonquipaug folks want that land so bad, let them hold a bake sale to buy it.