Deer in the Headlights as Hunting Season Nears

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

Meanwhile, East Hampton Town is working on a new “selective deer hunting program” in which hunters who have been vetted by town land management employee Andrew Gaites will be given a section of some nature preserve properties in town to hunt at times coordinated by the town.

East Hampton Nature Preserves Committee Chairman Zachary Cohen told the East Hampton Town Board at a work session Aug. 18 that the trial program would take place at a 14-acre brush dump on the corner of Bull Path and Cedar Street, at the new Brooks-Park preserve, at Hamilton Preserve and and at some properties along Accabonac Harbor, as well as perhaps at the capped landfill in Montauk.

He said there are many deer near the Springs-Fireplace Road landfill, but Highway Superintendent and public works director Steve Lynch is concerned about hunting when the landfill is closed near the tight network of buildings there.

Former East Hampton Group for Wildlife President Bill Crain said he believes East Hampton doesn’t have complete data on the size of its deer herd.

He added that he believes the criteria for chosing the hunters is vague.

“Friends of Andy Gaites is what we’ve heard so far. What does that mean?” he said. “We need some criteria. That thing won’t legally stand.”

Mr. Gaites, who was in attendance, said he’s not friends with all the hunters, but he is in charge of overseeing them, in a partnership with the Sportsmen’s Alliance, a group that organized two winters ago in opposition to the USDA deer cull.

“It’s a new program,” he said. “We need to figure it out.”

East Hampton Town Planning Directore Marguerite Wolffsohn pointed out that deer have already eaten through much of the native underbrush in East Hampton’s woodlands, something the planning department would have forbidden private property owners to do.

“We have clearing restrictions that protect everything,” she said. “One of reasons we’ve done that to maintain the biodiversity of the town. We have something unique here that’s disappeared from the rest of Long Island.”

“Try to find a sapling tree that’s made its way above the huckleberry layer,” she said. “Deer are the reason that’s happened. You can see where the vegetation has been chewed….  The deer have been doing what we prohibit homeowners from doing throughout the town.”

Ecologist Tyler Armstrong told the board he believes human land use has had a “much greater effect on ecology than deer grazing does.”

He said he thinks a recent change to allow bowhunters within 150 feet of houses, instead of 500 feet “seems incredibly dangerous.”

He said that artists, photographers and poets also use East Hampton’s woods, as well as hunters.

Every single day of the week hunting, I think, is too much,” he said. “I don’t want people to be afraid to go in the woods any month of the year.”

Mr. Gaites has also been working on compiling a map of where car accidents involving deer have occurred on town-maintained roads over the past seven years.

He plotted 1,966 different points on a map of the town, which showed that major thoroughfares, such as Stephen Hands Path, Cedar Street, and Edgemere Street, Flamingo Road and West Lake and East Lake drives in Montauk are the location of the most deer-related accidents.

The data did not include accidents on Montauk Highway or Route 114, which are both state roads.

Ellen Crain pointed out that many people drive too fast on the roads that have teh most accidents.

“There are not many deer-auto collisions on the side streets because people drive slowly,” she said. “On Stephen Hands Path, people are going way past the speed limit, and there’s really no enforcement.”

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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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