These days, about the only place many New Englanders would be truly surprised to encounter wild deer is on their dinner plate.
While the region’s surging deer population has provided ample opportunities for hunters, it hasn’t had much impact on the local food supply or in feeding the hungry, whose numbers have also climbed in recent years.
This month, a team of professional hunters from Connecticut will spend a week on scenic Block Island executing the largest coordinated Rhode Island deer cull on record.
And on at least this occasion, the state intends to make sure the estimated 200 deer culled are put to good use.
It has hired a Maine butcher shop with a U.S. Department of Agriculture-inspected, mobile meat-processing unit to come to Block Island and prepare the meat for donation to charity.
“The meat will be processed and packaged; community needs [on Block Island] will be taken care of first, and then any surplus meat will be ground, packaged and stored at the Rhode Island Community Food Bank,” said Catherine Sparks, Assistant Director for Natural Resources at the R.I. Department of Environmental Management.
The state is taking the dramatic step of culling deer, Virginia white-tailed deer specifically, because of a severe, “over-abundance” of the animals that DEM officials say has reached “10 times the desirable level for cultural tolerance and ecological health on Block Island.”
White Buffalo Inc., the hunting company hired for the Block Island job, will be paid a maximum of $89,300, according to DEM, with the cost being covered by private fundraising.
Deer were introduced to the 9.75-square-mile island in the 1960s and, with little to limit the population, have built numbers close to 1,000 animals, consuming native plant species and disrupting habitat for other creatures.
But the fact that the state had to look to Maine for processors to handle the deer meat produced by the cull highlights the fact that Rhode Island does not have a particularly active venison infrastructure.
Meat received from the Block Island cull will be the first taken in by the food bank, at least as far as anyone there is aware, said food bank spokeswoman Cindy Elder.
Elder said food safety is generally the concern with taking donations of venison, although it won’t be an issue with the state’s donation because of the involvement of the Maine butcher.