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Deer hunt urged in disease fight

PORTLAND, Maine -- A group of biologists and medical specialists is promoting expanded deer hunts as a way to curb Lyme disease.

"The more deer you have, the more reproductive potential for ticks," said Charles Lubelczyk, a field biologist for the Vector-borne Disease Laboratory at Maine Medical Center Research Institute. "If you can get deer down to a low-enough level, you might see the ticks drop in a little while."

Maine recorded 338 cases of Lyme disease last year, a 37 percent increase from 2005, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 1,000 Mainers have the disease, which can cause arthritis, neurological problems, and potentially fatal brain inflammation.

The mild winter that allowed more ticks to survive prompted the creation of a subcommittee whose members are seeking to educate the public about the health risks posed by overabundant deer.

Regulated deer hunts are the most cost-effective way of winnowing the deer population, said Vasco Carter, the group's chairman and a biologist with the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

Deer kills have taken place in some areas, including the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve. Parts of the reserve, which had up to 100 deer per square mile, have seen the numbers drop to 80 in the past six years, said Paul Dest, reserve manager.

Efforts to thin herds have triggered protests.