By Alex Lippa
---- — ATKINSON — Twelve years ago, the town banned hunting in all town forests. That may change after Town Meeting.
Voters will decide March 12 whether to allow bow hunting in the 200-plus acre town forest. The goal is to control the deer and tick populations.
“We have a severe tick problem in town,” Conservation Commission member Dan Kimball said. “The tick population usually follows the deer herd.”
With ticks come Lyme disease, which Town Administrator Bill Innes said is a growing problem in town.
“Southern New Hampshire is the epicenter of Lyme disease and in Atkinson we have had lots of instances,” he said.
When moderator Jim Garrity asked the crowd at the deliberative session how many people knew someone in town with Lyme disease, about half raised their hands.
Innes said he has not heard from anyone who opposes the idea.
“My granddaughter had half her face paralyzed for a little while because of Lyme disease,” he said. “We hope bow hunting can thin the deer herd.”
But not everyone is sold on the idea that the move would make much of an improvement.
Kent Gustafson, the deer project leader for New Hampshire Fish and Game, said he doesn’t believe the law would have much impact.
“It’s difficult to get the deer densities much lower, where there will be a change in the number of ticks,” he said. “There are just so many other factors.”
Gustafson estimated there are about 20 to 25 deer per square mile in Southern New Hampshire.
“It isn’t until you get down into the 10 to 12 per square mile range where you really make a dent,” he said.
Gustafson said his department is concerned about reducing the deer population in southeastearn New Hampshire, but said ticks weren’t a factor in that concern.
“We are primarily concerned with them destroying the habitat and with human interactions,” he said.
Conservation Commission Chairman Tim Dziechowski, who proposed the idea, couldn’t be reached for comment.
Hunting has been banned in the town forest since 2000. Voters opted to ban it after a bullet from the forest ended up near a house.
Gustafson estimated the majority of towns in Southern New Hampshire already allow bow hunting in their town forests. Salem tried to ban bow hunting in its forest several years ago, but the proposal was rejected unanimously by the Conservation Commission.
If the measure passes, residents would have to obtain a permit from the selectmen’s office before they could hunt in the town forest.