ROCKPORT — White-tailed deer are running wild on Beauchamp Point and some residents want to put an end to them.
The narrow peninsula jutting into Rockport Harbor is the site of a handful of exclusive homes and estates. Bounded by the renowned Aldermere Farm of Belted Galloway fame, Beauchamp Point is also the home of a deer herd that has swelled to the point where it now feasts on rhododendrons, flowers and vegetable gardens.
A recent survey of the area undertaken by state wildlife biologists revealed that the deer herd in the Beauchamp Point area has reached the saturation point.
In addition, state health officials have discovered indications that the deer tick-borne Lyme disease has infiltrated the herd to the extent that the area has been designated a “hot spot” by the state’s Lyme Disease Task Force.
As a result of the findings, Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife biologist Eugene Dumont has recommended the imposition of a special archery hunting season for deer on Beauchamp Point next fall. Landowner approval will be required before any archer may venture onto private property to stalk deer with bow and arrow, Dumont said last week.
“They have the beginnings of a deer problem on Beauchamp Point,” Dumont said. “With it’s mild winters and lots of feed, it’s a deer paradise.”
Beauchamp Point is located in the center of the Camden-Rockport area wildlife sanctuary zone bordered by Route 1 and the Goose and Megunticook rivers. Once away from the built-up portions of Route 1, the main features of the sanctuary are woods, farms and fields. The landscape is also interspersed with homes.
Deer have been a natural presence on Beauchamp Point long before the area was declared a wildlife sanctuary, Dumont said. But the ban on hunting, coupled with the proliferation of executive homes and vacation cottages, has increased their habitat. White-tailed deer love nothing better than a small patch of woods to bed down in and lots of manicured back yards and gardens to feed from, Dumont said.
Officials were alerted to the growing problem last fall by residents concerned that deer were gobbling their decorative plants and vegetables. Inland Fisheries and Wildlife held a public meeting on the subject last month after 18 residents submitted a letter asking the department to investigate.
Dumont said that when he toured the area he noticed a number of areas with pronounced “browse lines.” Browse lines are formed when deer feed on vegetation from the ground up to as far as they can crane their necks. The browse line delineates the spot where deer can no longer reach the vegetation.
During his site inspection, Dumont said he also observed “two deer in a back yard munching away in broad daylight. Some residents have reported seeing as many as eight to 10 deer at a time in daylight. When you start seeing deer at that level it’s usually an indication that the herd is growing.”
Residents attending last month’s public information session were informed that there was no method of deer removal other than hunting, Dumont said. He added that it is possible to keep deer away from treasured plants by erecting fences, spreading biological repellents or hanging bags of human hair. The smell of humans in the hair frightens the deer better than commercial repellents, he said.
However, to prevent deer from overgrazing and spreading disease, thinning by human means is the preferred method.
Dumont said the state’s management of its deer population by curtailing hunting in heavily populated regions and hunting female deer by permit in other areas has resulted in there being more deer than 10 years ago.
To prevent deer herds from growing out of control, the state last year enacted its special archery program. Special hunting seasons were permitted on coastal islands such as Monhegan and Islesboro as well as in southern Maine coastal communities in York and Cumberland counties. Dumont said he expected the Beauchamp Point area and parts of Winslow to be added to the list this fall.
“Because these areas are certainly not appropriate for firearms hunting, we are talking about opening them up for archery,” Dumont said.
Dumont described bow hunting as a “pretty benign” activity where 90 percent of the hunters sit in trees and shoot their arrows toward the ground “and have to be pretty close to the deer to be effective.”
Bow hunting is on the increase in Maine and by enjoying their sport during special deer seasons, archers do not lose the option of taking a second deer during firearms season, Dumont said.
Dumont stressed that by law, hunters must obtain written permission from each Beauchamp Point landowner to hunt on individuals’ property during the special season. “That will allow landowners to have full control of who goes on their land,” he said, adding that one particular landowner would have the right to object to the hunt even if rest of the neighborhood approved of the season.
Dumont estimated that an annual harvest of “eight to 10” deer would be needed to keep the Beauchamp Point herd at manageable levels. Whenever deer reach populations of 20 to 25 per square mile there is cause for concern, he added.
“On Beauchamp Point that may be a little bit higher. Deer do very well in built-up areas.”