A potential political landmine exploded this month for the Conservation Commission over the question of allowing deer hunting on town open space as a way of reducing the epidemic of tick-borne diseases.
At the commission’s meeting Tuesday, it voted to amend its July 24 meeting minutes to include a discussion about a state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) survey. The failure to mention the discussion was a bone of contention last week when Selectman James Gaston accused Conservation Commission Chairman Mary Wilson of misrepresenting her commission’s position on the hunting issue.
Wilson said after getting "hammered" by Gaston, she spent several hours preparing a transcript of the July 24 discussion from the audio recording of the meeting.
The Conservation Commission opposes hunting on town open space land, but that wasn’t what Gaston criticized Wilson for.
Wilson and most of the other members of the Conservation Commission agreed on July 24 that the DEEP survey asks leading questions designed to give state officials a basis for claiming that Newtown residents support allowing hunting as a way to reduce cases of Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases.
Newtown has one of the highest rates of Lyme disease of all the towns in the state. Although some officials say deer hunting reduces the number of ticks, because ticks feed on deer, hunting opponents say other towns near Newtown have not seen any reduction in disease cases after allowing hunting.
Wilson and other commission members attended the Board of Selectmen meeting on Aug. 6 because the tick disease issue was on the agenda. The selectmen postponed that agenda item until next month, but First Selectman Patricia Llodra invited Wilson and the others to speak since they were there.
When Wilson noted the opinion that the DEEP survey asked loaded questions, Gaston fired back that the commission’s minutes showed no discussion had taken place.
On Tuesday, Wilson said the audio recording shows the discussion took place, although it wasn’t included in the minutes. "Our statement was very appropriate," she said.
However, the commission members cautioned each other to be careful about when to state they were speaking for themselves and not for the commission.
"We put ourselves in a bad spot if we speak on something without a vote to do so," observed Adria Henderson.