People who initially didn't want to be in the same room with each other eventually were able to reach a consensus on an emotional issue: controlling the deer population.
That's something Amherst is trying to do but that the Rochester suburb of Irondequoit was able to achieve a fair amount of success at, participants in a were told Saturday.
Irondequoit's success occurred only after a long, difficult process and when people stopped calling each other "Bambi killers" and "animal rightists." Kathleen Bennett and Marc Romanowski, editors of the Buffalo Environmental Law Journal at the University at Buffalo Law School, sponsored the day-long discussion of "The Increasing Conflicts of Deer and Human Populations in Suburban Areas." About 70 people attended, including a contingent from Ohio.
One of the speakers was Richard Matwyshen of Rochester, a retired Eastman Kodak engineer and professional facilitator.
He served as facilitator of a citizen task force that was able to achieve a consensus on controlling the deer population in Irondequoit that involves both use of immuno contraception and some bait-and-shoot. But deer injected for contraception also are tagged so that they will not be victims of bait-and-shoot.
The final compromise was the result of a six-month effort in 1994, but it wasn't easy.
When people were arriving for the first meeting at the local library, the librarian, knowing the strong feelings on both sides, put the police on alert, Matwyshen said.
"We didn't even mention the D-word for the first three months," until people were willing to start listening to the other side, he said.
He described a seven-step process that began with understanding the impact of human nature on the process.
When both sides focus on their differences with the only possible outcome a win or loss, the chances of reaching consensus are remote, he said.
But if people can get to know each other, and start to listen to each other, they discover they agree on a lot of things.
Attendance was high at the first few meetings because both sides wanted to "win" in case there was a vote.
But there was nothing controversial then or for many meetings to come.
And when it was time to start discussing the D-word, people were at least willing to listen to the other side, even if they hadn't budged on their position.
The group started with about 45 people and eventually picked a five-member subcommittee that was able to present a compromise plan to the Town Board that has proven to be successful, he said.
Other speakers at the symposium, including representatives of the Humane Society and the state Department of Environmental Conservation, discussed bait-and-shoot and non-lethal alternatives, including land management. A panel discussion was to conclude the event.