The deer hunt on town-owned land in Ridgefield began in 2005.
At its peak, the deer management implementation committee in Ridgefield had 15 properties in town where bow hunters set up stands.
This year, the number will drop to five, committee huntmaster Stephano Zandri said. Committee members will monitor other sites to see if the deer are returning there.
“We are seeing less deer,” Zandri said. “That’s what we’ve been seeing for the last three years.”
In neighboring Redding, the town’s Conservation Commission has allowed bow hunting on commission-controlled land for 11 years.
This year, the commission canceled the hunt, Commission Chairman David Pattee said.
The commission controls 2 percent of town property, Pattee said. The deer herd has declined enough, he said, so that hunter interest had dropped as well and the work required to run the hunt wasn’t commensurate with the result.
“We’ll keep an eye on things,” Pattee said.
The Fairfield County Deer Management Alliance — which once coordinated herd reduction in towns throughout the county — has become somewhat dormant.
Donna Culbert, director of health for the Newtown Health District, which covers Newtown, Bridgewater and Roxbury, said she no longer gets any new messages from the alliance.
“I used to,” she said of her connection with the alliance’s work.
So human intervention in a human-created problem may be having the effect intended — cutting down the number of deer where they once over-browsed the landscape to the point of damaging it. Contributions from bobcat, black bear and farm equipment may be helping as well.
Howard Kilpatrick, a wildlife biologist at the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, said the hunting zone in the state that covers Fairfield County used to have about 60 deer per square mile.
The DEEP’s latest count shows that now, there are about 40 to 42 deer per square mile — a reduction of about a third.
Kilpatrick said the DEEP doesn’t have numbers for all of Litchfield County. But a survey for its four northern towns showed the herd holding steady there at about 40 deer per square mile as well.
This statistic is showing up in the number of car-deer collisions. At the herd’s peak years, the DEEP got reports of about 18,000 deer-car collisions a year. That’s now down to about 6,000 a year, Kilpatrick said.
“We’ve reduced the deer population,” he said.
This partially due to the DEEP’s policy of allowing more hunting in the regions of the state where the deer herd is most abundant.
But two predators in the state — bobcat and black bear — may be helping as well.
When fawns arrive in the spring, their instinct is to sit absolutely still in a field, while the mothering doe grazes nearby. Kirkpatrick said that makes them more than fair game for bobcats and black bear. Farmers driving equipment in the fields also strike the beautifully camouflaged fawns.
“Half the fawns born each year die within the first two weeks,” Kilpatrick said. “Those that make it past two weeks do pretty well.”
But Kilpatrick said towns and landowners that want to keep the herd at bay have to stay vigilant. More than 20 deer per square mile means ecological damage to forests, he said.
Which is why hunters will be back at the 1,746-acre Lucius Pond Ordway/Devil’s Den Preserve in Weston four times in coming weeks: on Nov. 20-21; Nov. 25-27; Dec. 2-5 and Dec. 9-11. The preserve will be closed to visitors on those days.
The reason for the hunt, the Nature Conservancy said in a release, is “to improve and maintain forest health.”
Basically, the deer herd, left unchecked, chews down the forest understory. That keeps tree seedlings from flourishing and wipes out native wildflowers.
Deer also play a major part in the life cycle of black-legged tick, which infect humans with Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses.
The deer aren’t reservoirs for the various bacteria that cause these diseases, but hundreds of ticks seeking a blood meal can infest a single deer and get dispersed as they hitch a ride across the landscape.
However, to limit the spread of tick-borne diseases through deer herd reduction, the herd would have to be reduced to 10 deer or less per square mile.
In the deer park that Connecticut is now — with lawns and shrubs, bordered by woods — that seems unlikely.
“They tend to be where we’ve created a fringe environment,” Newtown’s Culbert said.