Lawmakers in Albany are looking to work with Southold Town to establish a pilot deer management program, giving deer hunters more tools to enable them to restore the ecological balance in a population that has rapidly grown out of control.
If approved by the New York State Legislature and Governor during the next legislative session in early 2023, Southold would be poised to be the proving grounds for several changes to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s methods of regulating hunting throughout the state.
New York State Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio, who represents the South Fork, announced the plan surrounded by fellow lawmakers at Downs Farm Preserve in Cutchogue Aug. 5, in a swath of woodlands that highlights not only the damage that deer can do to habitat, but also their contribution to the proliferation of tick-borne diseases and to car accidents.
If approved by the legislature, the bill would enable a pilot program allowing the DEC and Southold Town to establish incentives for hunters, regulate deer culling “by qualified professionals under controlled circumstances,” extending a special January firearm hunting season, allow the use of crossbows in Southold, eliminate acreage minimums for hunting, regulate the harvesting of bucks, and allow supervised hunting by 12 and 13 year-olds.
Currently, crossbows are not permitted during the archery season on Long Island from Oct. 1 through Jan. 31, while shotgun season is solely during the month of January here. Rifles are not permitted for deer hunting on Long Island, and currently only youth ages 14 and up can hunt with a firearm here.
Ms. Giglio was quick to point out that many of these ideas had already been floated in the DEC’s “Management Plan for White Tailed Deer in New York State,” issued in May of 2021 with the goal of guiding deer management here for the next decade.
Ms. Giglio laid out the growing number of tick-borne diseases that East Enders face here, including Lyme Disease, babesiosis, ehrlichiosis, alpha gal and powassan virus, saying that 500 cases of Lyme alone are reported to the Regional Tick-Borne Disease Resource Center at Stony Brook Southampton Hospital.
“And that’s underdiagnosed,” she said. “The symptoms can be misread, and it can spread to your joints, organs and nervous system.”
State Assemblyman Fred Thiele, of the South Fork, said he had had tick-borne diseases twice, and “virtually every family on the Eas tEnd has had somebody who has had Lyme or other tick-borne diseases.”
He added that he supports Ms. Giglio’s legislation, in part because he believes local governments, like towns and villages, are “best equipped to solve these problems.”
“This is nothing radical,” he added. “It takes the most recently adopted DEC Deer Management Plan and allows the Town of Southold to utilize the tools recommended by the DEC.
Southold has long been at the forefront of efforts to control deer population through hunting, with a well-established deer management program. Other East End towns have taken other tacks, with varying degrees of success, from Shelter Island’s work to apply pesticides to control the number of ticks carried by deer to East Hampton Village’s attempt to sterilize deer there.
In 2014, Southold was the only town to take advantage of a program spearheaded by the Long Island Farm Bureau to allow USDA Wildlife Services sharpshooters to cull deer there, though farmers throughout the East End did participate on their own land. The program involved baiting deer and waiting for them to arrive at the baiting station, where they were killed. In all, 132 deer were killed in the program on the North Fork, while 60 were killed on the South Fork, far less than the thousands of deer that the many opponents of the program thought would be killed.
Dr. John Rasweiler, a Cutchogue physiologist who serves on Suffolk County’s Tick Advisory Committee, told attendees at Ms. Giglio’s press conference that the overabundance of deer due to lack of predators and an environment that supports their eating habits “is simply not the way nature was su[posed to work.”
He laid out the many arguments against other methods of solving the deer and tick problems, stating that pesticides “don’t kill enough ticks to help with public health” and that rendering deer infertile is “extremely expensive, and they need to be given boosters every couple years.” He added that 90 percent of female deer would need to be treated for such a program to be effective.
Southold Town Police Chief Martin Flatley said there are an average of 227 motor vehicle accidents between cars and deer reported in Southold Town each year, with November being the worst month for accidents.
“It really is a problem on our roadways,” he said, adding that several deer usually cross the road together, and motorists who miss the first deer might hit a second or third.
Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski, a farmer who is also from Cutchogue, added that he’s seen a lot of deer who’ve run into farm fields after being hit by a car and are “suffering for days before they die.”
North Fork Environmental Council President Mark Haubner added that the ecological damage caused by deer to the understory of our woods makes it more difficult for plants to retain moisture in the soul, making conditions more conducive for wildfires.
Arnold Blair of the Nassau Point Property Owners Association said one of his neighbors almost died of ehrlichiosis, his wife has had Lyme disease twice and a major car collision with a deer on the Main Road.
He added that efforts to hunt deer on Nassau Point have been hampered because once deer know there are hunters in the area, they move to somewhere safer.
“We need a town-wide plan,” he said.
“We need additional tools. This truly is a crisis,” said Southold Town Councilman Greg Doroski. “Deer move when they feel hunting pressure. We need a town-wide program.”
“This is the largest public health crisis in Southold, with no close second,” said Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell. “There’s only so far we can go within the regulatory framework now.”
He thanked the state lawmakers for their support, adding that “community groups that came together and pushed made the difference.”