by Mark Haubner
It was my turn to drive while my friend slept. It was 1:30 in the morning, some 40 years ago, and our youth and energy caused us to drive the 300 miles from Rock Springs, Wyoming, to Yellowstone Park for the weekend. We were in the depths of the national forest somewhere, my friend’s new car a bright red Mustang with white interior, automatic, 6-cylinder—nothing fancy, we were just over the speed limit doing 70 — and a large doe bounded out from the left side of the road. Embedded in my memory is the picture of her chest crashing into the front fender, the edge of the door slicing into her shoulder, her head bouncing off the hood, teeth bared in pain, eyes wild with fright. I watched as she spun counterclockwise away from the car, her hind end hitting the quarter panel on the way off the road.
Back in April this year, my wife and I were driving up Church Lane in Aquebogue, and I was telling her how the three closest calls (of five) I’ve had with a car and deer were on Church Lane. It was 10 o’clock on a Friday evening, and she slowed down to 28 miles an hour in reaction to my tales. Out of one of the steep driveways on the left, a large buck bounded across our path, my wife braking quickly, we hit the deer as it was in front of the right side of the car, half its body above the hood line.
He took off and we pulled off the road to pick up broken car parts and to realize how lucky we were. The damage was assessed at about $6,000 (average for a deer strike), which our insurance company paid quickly as the repairs were done. The shop and the insurance company said that if the airbags had deployed they would have written the car off as a total loss—our 2019, $30,000 car would have gone to auction in Pennsylvania with only 17,000 miles on it.
At 2.5 times the New York State average for deer-car collisions, the North Fork bears the brunt of a very out-of-balance deer population.
What Will It Take?
Over the last several months the North Fork Civics (Town of Southold), North Fork Environmental Council and the North Fork Deer Alliance have developed an intense community engagement effort, which is now the Deer Management Coalition. Starting with the long list of social, environmental and economic concerns of the community at large, we quickly realized that the negative impacts of an out-of-balance deer population were high and had grown to a point of great concern. Top on nearly everyone’s list was public health, as deer are the major host for ticks and their tick-borne diseases. This is just part of the heavy burdens we bear here on the North Fork for nature being too far out of balance.
Our research then involved both New York and Connecticut studies on the subject, interviews with experts in Wildlife Biology and Environmental Sciences, deer hunters and representatives at every level (town, county, state). This is not a local issue alone: According to the recently-released NYS DEC Management Plan for White-Tailed Deer in New York State, 2021 – 2030, “Suffolk County has some of the most severe, widespread deer-related problems in the state.” Being Number One in things like banning DDT or phosphates is a good thing; being number one in a set of negative deer-related problems is something in both size and scope that requires a hard look at the conditions and alternatives.
What Will It Cost?
Riverhead’s Town Board was reluctant to lay out $76,000 for a consultant to create the plans for our Downtown Revitalization; yet three years later, even the board members opposed to the expense were impressed with the project. We are at the point of needing a comprehensive deer management plan.
‘What has it cost us already?’ and ‘How long do we want to continue to pay these prices?’ It’s not just car collisions, but dramatic loss of understory in our remaining woodlands and wetlands, destruction of farm crops and residential gardens and the mounting incidences of Tick-Borne Illnesses. Our relatives come out from Brooklyn and they will not go out into our back yard because they have heard of our tick issues. We keep my 3-year-old grandson contained on the shortest grass of the back yard, and even then, being here 3 days a week, he has come in with a tick on him. I know people who have become ‘long-haul Lyme’ sufferers with cognitive disabilities because of under- and misdiagnosed infections. Contracting alpha-gal is not how I want to become a beef-averse vegan.
Where To Go From Here?
Science-based information, public education and overall awareness will give us the tools, the guidance and the informed decision-making that a community requires. A vision of what we want for the North Fork is vital: a healthy, thriving Peconic Bioregion, with healthy deer, few tick-borne diseases, few deer collisions, with deer hunting for recreation, providing venison for public benefit, keeping Nature thriving, regenerating and in balance. Yes, dear!
We are collecting deer stories and welcome yours: DeerManagementCoalition@gmail.com
Mark Haubner has been recycling newspaper since 1965, and not seeing his example being followed by everyone on the planet, started learning Science Communication in earnest about 6 years ago. He got a Certificate in Sustainability and Behavior Change from the University of California at San Diego (the daily commute was grueling) and now writes Community Based Social Marketing programs for the various nonprofits with which he is involved.
Climate Local Now is a partnership between the East End Beacon and Drawdown East End, whose mission is to inspire local solutions to reverse global warming. | DrawdownEastEnd.org.