The Conservation Comission has approved an expansion to the town's deer-hunting program, doubling the number of town-approved bow hunters allowed and opening hundreds of additional acres to bow hunting.
The expansion allows 80 hunters, up from 40 last year and 25 in the program's first year, to participate in deer hunting after completing a qualifying test, according to Conservation Director Bob Douglas.
The town also has picked up additional pieces of land for the program. The largest piece of land to be added is the Harold R. Rafton Reservation, a 226-acre AVIS reservation near High Plain Road. The commission also approved the use of Serio's Grove off Lowell Junction Road, and a town-owned stretch of land along the Merrimack River, Douglas said.
Because AVIS has a say in who is allowed to use its property and for what purposes, Douglas said opening up the Rafton Reservation was tricky.
"There's a lot of moving parts," said Douglas. "We wanted to be able to see if AVIS was comfortable opening up their land."
Ultimately, AVIS allowed the program to move forward on the Rafton Reservation under the same rules that exist elsewhere, according to Douglas.
Other areas already included in the hunt include the Wood Hill/Bald Hill Reservation, Fish Brook North, conservation land surrounding Foster's Pond, and Foster's Island at Pomps Pond.
Applications to participate in the program were due by June 1. Qualifiers to participate in the program will be held on Aug. 18 and Sept. 9 at the Andover Sportsman's Club, according to the town website. The program allows non-resident hunters, except at Serio's Grove, where only town residents are able to hunt, following a Conservation Commission vote on Tuesday night. The program will run from mid-October to the end of the calendar year.
The so-called deer management program was started in 2010 to thin deer herds that were deemed to be too large, and which supporters argued indirectly caused an increase in Lyme disease cases in Andover.
Lois Karfunkel, a vocal opponent to the program, said her concerns with hunting deer in Andover — which included issues relating to hiker safety and the humane treatment of animals — still stand.
"The same arguments we made at Town Meeting two years ago apply as much to this expansion," said Karfunkel. "The expansion won't address the [Lyme disease] issue. I would rather the efforts be placed on trying to get a Lyme disease vaccine that's available.
"I'm ashamed that my dog Molly can get a shot for Lyme disease, but it's not available for families in Andover," added Karfunkel.
In the time since Andover started allowing deer hunting in 2010, other communities have reached out to Andover to learn about how it handled the transition to allowing bow-and-arrow hunting on town-owned land with restrictions, according to Douglas.
"We've kind of become a source of information for people who want to replicate the hunt in their own towns," said Douglas.
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