Deer in the Headlights as Hunting Season Nears

Deer have moved into town.
Deer have moved into town.

With summer rapidly moving into our rear-view mirror on the East End, we turn forward to a fall that inevitably brings more deer into the headlights of our consciousness and our cars.

Southold and East Hampton towns have both been busy in the past month debating the best ways to handle their deer hunting seasons this coming fall and winter.

In Southold, the discussion has turned to a plea for more deer hunting, driven by many who’ve experienced the plague of Lyme Disease, while in East Hampton, deer rights advocates have kept a watchful eye on the town board’s plans.

Members of the North Fork Deer Management Alliance and the Southold Town Deer Management Committee sat down with the Southold Town Board to hash out a plan at the board’s Aug. 11 work session.

John Severini of Greenport, a member of the alliance, said that the numbers of deer still living in Southold after several years of active hunting “don’t seem to support that we’re gaining on the problem. At best we’re keeping the herd about the same. We think that’s an unhealthy level.”

He said 581 deer were killed in Southold during last year’s hunting season, while the town-wide population is estimated at about 3,500 deer.

Members of the alliance asked the town board to fund a part-time wildlife manager position to help coordinate hunting in Southold. Town Supervisor Scott Russell said later in August that he plans to include the position in his 2016 budget due in at the end of September.

Mr. Severini added that accidents involving deer on Southold’s roads have been steadily increasing, with 140 hits reported on average between 2000 and 2002, while 229 hits on average were reported between 2006 and 2014.

“That number is not going in the right direction,” he said.

He added that more than one-quarter of the car accidents in Southold last year involved deer, at an average cost in damage to cars of $3,314.

“It just appears that more needs to be done,” he said. “I don’t think it’s fair to ask an all-volunteer army to handle this problem for the town.”

Dr. John Rasweiler, a biologist and expert on tick-bourne diseases, pointed out that many newly found tick-bourne diseases have higher mortality rates than Lyme Disease.

In the case of babesiosis, he said, 5 percent of people who contract the disease die, and that number can be up to 20 to 30 percent of the people in high risk groups, such as the elderly, children and people with compromised immune systems.

“This is simply an intolerable situation for us all to be living with,” he said. “The only meaningful solution that is safe, affordable and feasible is to reduce the number of deer.”

Dr. Rasweiler said the most successful method of reducing the number of deer is to have sharpshooters bait and kill them, something that is prohibited by the Department of Environmental Conservation.

USDA sharpshooters who were allowed to supercede the DEC’s authority and hunt using bait were the subject of severe controversy when Southold became the only town on the East End to agree to participate in a program spearheaded by the Long Island Farm Bureau two winters ago.

“We need to do this in a way that’s not as controversial as a cull,” pointed out Mr. Severini. “It won’t be sharpshooters…. Professional management of some sort is essential. Local expertise should be developed or contracted out.”

While some town board members seemed concerned at adding a wildlife manager at a time when the town is facing a severe .73 percent tax levy increase cap, members of the alliance said they’d be willing to raise the money to give to the town for the program.

Dr. Rasweiler also suggested the wildlife manager work with private property owners to help open up more land in Southold to hunting.

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Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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