With just weeks left before the Long Island Farm Bureau plans to hire USDA sharpshooters to cull the East End’s deer herd, opposition to the program is continuing to grow.
Nowhere is the malcontentment more palpable than in East Hampton, where deer lovers are staging a march and rally next Saturday in opposition to the cull.
East Hampton Group for Wildlife President Bill Crain, an animal rights activist who has spent years protesting deer hunting in East Hampton, is one of the organizers of the rally, and his group, The Evelyn Alexander Wildlife Rescue Center and 14 other individuals filed suit against East Hampton Town and East Hampton Village on Dec. 20 of last year, requesting that the hunt be cancelled.
Mr. Crain said Wednesday that East Hampton’s arial survey of the deer population last year showed there were only 877 deer in the town, down from 3,293 counted in a ground survey in 2006.
“A cull would threaten to wipe out the entire population,” he said. “There’s no scientific basis for a cull.”
“It’s a nightmare for the deer,” he added. “They’re going after females. It will leave a lot of orphans.”
Though the petition states the farm bureau plans to slaughter 5,000 deer, Farm Bureau Executive Director Joe Gergela said this Friday he believes they will only be able to kill 1,000 to 1,500 animals. He said the state DEC estimates there are between 27,000 and 30,000 deer on the East End.
“That’s all the money we have is going to do,” he said, adding that the farm bureau has to pay to have the deer butchered and delivered to food pantries.
“It’s a tough issue,” he said. “There’s a vocal minority who are opposed, but they’re mostly out-of-towners, not locals. I don’t think anybody in their right mind doesn’t think they’re beautiful animals. There are just too many of them. They’re causing ecological damage, destroying habitat of native bird species. It’s an ecological imbalance. We’re not doing this to be cruel.”
The three former members of the East Hampton Town Board who left office at the end of 2013 had been in favor of the hunt, but new board members sworn in last week haven’t yet made their stances known.
At a work session Tuesday, new Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell added an amendment to a resolution authorizing the town to hire outside legal counsel to defend the case that would cap the amount of money spent at $7,500.
Mr. Cantwell also passed out copies of a supporting resolution making its way around the East End for a proposed state law that would grant individual towns the right to allow bowhunting within 150 feet of a house. Currently, the state DEC does not allow bowhunting within 500 feet of a house. Southold Town, which is actively supporting both the cull and the loosened bowhunting restrictions, has already sent a letter to the state supporting the bill.
Mr Cantwell told his board “at some point we can discuss this” as he handed out the resolution.
In Southold Town, where Lyme Disease victims have told horror stories at numerous public meetings on what to do about the deer population, leaders enthusiastically signed on to the Farm Bureau’s plan when it was first announced. Riverhead has opted out of the cull, and Mr. Gergela said he believes Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst would like to avoid discussions. He said he’s currently in discussions with Sagaponack Village abut having USDA hunters work there.
Southold is holding a public information session on the culling program on Jan. 16 at 6 p.m. at the Southold Recreation Center. Martin Lowney, New York State Director of the USDA Wildlife Services, will discuss the scope and anticipated outcomes of the project.
Mr. Crain said he is skeptical of the implied correlation between the deer population and the prevalence of Lyme Disease, which is carried by deer ticks, on the East End.
“If you remove the deer, the ticks will start off on white-footed mice, raccoons, possums and dogs,” he said. “It should really be called the white-footed mouse tick but people never see white-footed mice. They hide well.”
Mr. Crain added that the DEC’s newly re-established turkey hunting program is a detriment to the control of Lyme Disease.
“We need to stop hunting turkeys. They’re the main predators of ticks,” he said. “The natural enemy of Lyme Disease is the turkey.”
Mr. Gergela agreed that other animals serve as hosts for ticks, but said “the deer are carriers. They’re huge mammals and their territory is large. They’re moving ticks around to other animals.”
The “No Cull” rally begins at the Hook Mill at the corner of North Main Street and Main Street at 1 p.m. on Jan. 18, after which protestors will walk on the sidewalk west to Newtown Lane, ending in another rally at Herrick Park. Mr. Crain said Babette’s Restaurant, a vegetarian restaurant across the street from the park, is offering hot tea and soup to protestors after the demonstration.
Mr. Gergela said he believes the USDA hunting will begin in late February or early March.