Before venturing into the woods on the East End the next few weekends in January, be sure to be alert to new changes that could turn a day in the park into a deadly excursion for hikers.
Changes to the State Department of Environmental Conservation regulations for Suffolk County this year include extending the December bowhunting season through January 31 (it had previously closed on Dec. 31) and expanding the special January firearms season to run every day from the first Sunday in January through Jan. 31. The firearms season had previously been just on weekdays.
These changes were enacted by state law in response to the overwhelming number of deer on the East End in recent years, after a plan for a USDA-sponsored sharpshooter cull of the deer herd met with serious opposition last winter.
This season, bowhunters are also allowed to hunt within 150 feet of houses, when they had previously only been allowed within 500 feet of houses.
On the East End, DEC-managed hunting areas that are participating in the weekend firearms hunting include the David A. Sarnoff preserve in Flanders, Henry’s Hollow Pine Barrens State Forest in Hampton Bays, the Southampton Cooperative Access areas in Tuckahoe Swamp, Barrell Hill and Southampton Hills, the Barcelona Neck Cooperative Hunting area in East Hampton, the Otis Pike Preserve in Calverton and Ridge and the Westhampton Dwarf Pine Plains Preserve.
East Hampton Cooperative Area hunting areas in Montauk, including Hither Woods and Hither Hills State Park, Napeague State Park, Amsterdam Beach and Montauk Point State Park will just be open for hunting on weekdays, and Montauk Point State Park will also be closed to hunting on Martin Luther King Day, Jan. 19. The Noyac area of the Southampton Cooperative Access Area will also only be open to hunters on weekdays.
Bowhunting will not be permitted in the East Hampton or Southampton state cooperative areas while shotgun hunting is taking place, but is allowed on other county, town and privately owned lands that are participating in deer hunting programs.
Weekend shotgun hunting is also allowed on county, private and town-owned parcels that are greater than 10 acres and are already in the big game shotgun hunting program.
The East Hampton Town Board voted on Dec. 18, 2014 to prohibit bowhunting on town-owned land that is open to shotgun hunting during the month of January, in order to prevent conflict between the two different user groups.
While the DEC was accepting public comment on the special season between Oct. 22 and Dec. 8 of last year, few on the East End were notified of the public comment period before the new law went into effect.
Mindy Block, a naturalist who runs the Quality Parks naturalist program, urged readers of her blog in early December to write in to the DEC.
While acknowledging the need to reduce the number of deer on the East End, she said that “recreational access to public lands is very important to Long Islanders (including hikers, walkers, artists, mountain bicyclists, equestrian riders, joggers, runners, cross country skiers and other passive recreational users) to maintain physical, emotional, and spiritual health.”
She urged the DEC to compromise by letting hikers in the woods on Sundays and Mondays and allowing hunting Tuesdays through Saturdays.
Bill Crain, founder of the East Hampton Group for Wildlife, was taken aback by the lack of publicity about the changes, he told the East Hampton Town Board at their work session Jan. 6. Mr. Crain circulated an online petition last fall that garnered more than 1,600 signatures opposing the changes.
“Who suffers from this decision? The deer,” he said. “Another victim is democratic decision-making.”