• Truth and consequences in the woods
    July 27,2013

    In response to Department of Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Patrick Berry’s recent commentary and comments in this newspaper, I would like to clarify several issues that I feel have been distorted over the past couple of weeks.

    As I said in my original letter, my neighbors, Jerry and Jean Healy, first found a dead doe with full udder in their woods on about May 30. The next day they found two fawns. They called the state police dispatcher, who told them that Fish and Wildlife would shoot the fawns if called. They left the fawns in the woods and listened to them cry. On June 2, after a devastating storm in Marshfield, Jean told me about the orphaned fawns and I was able to find one of them. I put it on my back porch, to protect it from predators, not to “make it a pet.” I fed it goat’s milk from a bottle because that is what wildlife rehabilitators told me it needed in order to survive. From the first day, I was calling wildlife rehabilitators to find out how I could get this fawn into their care.

    Mr. Berry says we “refused” Fish and Wildlife’s request to show them the dead doe. About a week after the fawn was shot (two and a half weeks after the doe was originally found), Shawn Fowler, a local Fish and Wildlife officer, arrived at the Healys’ house and asked to see the dead doe. Jerry brought him into the woods to the area he had found the deer, but the area was littered with downed trees from the storm, and Shawn gave up after looking for a bit. The body had also probably deteriorated or been food for other animals by that point.

    It is still surprising and disappointing to me that Mr. Berry refuses to believe what we have told Fish and Wildlife officials from the beginning.

    Why does Mr. Berry, who has heard these facts consistently, continue to present a distorted picture of what occurred?

    I did not “illegally seize a fawn from its natural environment while likely waiting for its mother to return.” My neighbors and I knew its mother had died and the fawn was starving to death. We did not yet know the laws in Vermont (which actually allow rehabilitation of fawns) or Mr. Berry’s firm policy. We were looking for a way to help this fawn and assumed there would be some humane assistance available.

    I was careful to follow the advice I received from rehabilitators and never for one instant planned to keep this animal and make it a pet. If Mr. Berry’s policy is such a sound one, why does he continue to make assertions, which his own officers have told him are untrue? The officer who shot the fawn told me he “knew” I was trying to get this fawn to rehab and it “was never in question” with the department.

    As Mr. Berry continues to point out and I agree, many fawns may be mistakenly seen as abandoned when their mothers are alive and well. It is important that the public be educated about this so that fawns are not removed when their mothers are nearby. It would seem important that citizens of Vermont are able to see Fish and Wildlife officers as sources of information and help, if they find a fawn.

    From the beginning, the issue I have raised has been about the orphaned fawns that are found each spring, after their mothers have died. Next spring there will be more cases like mine, where a fawn is shot in Vermont instead of being taken to a licensed rehabilitator and released when it is old enough to return to the wild.

    Since first writing my letter, I have heard other stories from Vermonters who tried to help an orphaned fawn by calling Fish and Wildlife only to have the fawn shot or listen to the animal slowly starve to death in their yard.

    One family in Northfield had to wake their three children on a Sunday morning to say goodbye to the fawn that they had tried to help. The children were devastated when the Fish and Wildlife officer told them that he was taking the fawn and would have to shoot it.

    I thought it worthwhile to ask: Might there not be a better way for this group of fawns? I was told about the concern regarding chronic wasting disease. But my question remains: Would it not be better for orphaned fawns to be taken to a licensed rehabilitator than for folks, who don’t want to see it shot, to end up caring for it themselves without guidance or assistance?

    It seems that it would be worth considering whether this policy might create an unfortunate situation, rather than prevent it. Could that be part of the reason why Maine, Connecticut, New Hampshire and New York all allow the licensed rehabilitation of fawns? It is hard to believe that they are not equally concerned about the possibility of disease.

    Mr. Berry cites scientific evidence: two studies involving the release of rehabilitated fawns.

    The first, from Connecticut, looks like it should never have been published, as two-thirds of the fawns were already sick with pneumonia when they were released. As everyone knows, the devil is in the details when it comes to statistics and studies.

    The second study of released fawns in Missouri looks more “scientific” yet; the fawns were trucked to a new habitat, at only 10 weeks of age, and were released just before the beginning of winter. Their rate of survival was dismal. From talking to experienced fawn rehabilitators, apparently this study did not employ “best practices,” which would have involved providing open pens and some food support throughout the first winter.

    Licensed rehabilitators are volunteers and do not generally have the money to do formal radio-collar release studies. Yet they tell me they recognize deer they have released and often see them year after year in the wild. They do not at all agree with Mr. Berry’s assertion that “deer brought into captivity will never again live as truly wild animals.”

    Fish and Wildlife licenses rehabilitators in Vermont, and so it is difficult for them to speak out as strongly and freely as they might like to regarding their beliefs and opinions about this issue. That leaves it to the general public to raise questions and concerns about the policies of Fish and Wildlife.

    I wish that Vermont citizens who are concerned about this policy and would like to explore what other states are doing and why, could sit down and have a respectful conversation with Mr. Berry and the department. From the beginning, I have wanted to learn and understand the issues involved here, and I have spoken to a number of Fish and Wildlife employees who have been sincere and respectful.

    I do not feel that has been the case with Mr. Berry’s response to my concerns, and that is disappointing.

    Julia Gresser lives in Marshfield.

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