As any habitual reader of this column already knows, my neighborhood — or, anyway, the property surrounding my house — was, last fall and winter, home to a resident family of deer. Five would appear at once, and two were fawns. For the most part, they ambled, rather than ran, across the lawn or down the lane; they seem to enjoy visits to the adjacent East Hampton Library grounds, too. I never could figure out where they bedded down. But while other members of our household railed against them, I took a benevolent, maternal attitude. If any of the grandchildren were around, I would join them in rushing excitedly to a door or window to see what the deer were getting up to next.
I am hardly a vegetarian. I’ve eaten, cooked, and enjoyed venison over the years. I remember that I once even thought it might be a good idea for deer to be raised on Gardiner’s Island for the market. And I am not opposed to hunting, especially if the quarry ends up on the table. But I have come to think of my house deer almost as pets. It follows, therefore, that even if it might be somewhat out of line with my stated beliefs about wild-animal life and death, I don’t quite like the thrust of the long-term management plan that East Hampton Town has just adopted, which advocates killing to control overpopulation.
The 17-page document (not including maps) was devised by a group of experts and various government officials. The plan augments but does not revise the recommendation that a town committee made more than two years ago, to the effect that hunting should be expanded. It describes other methods that might be used to control deer, but only after the population is brought down to a more manageable level. And, as might be expected, it leaves every action in the hands of existing or future members of the town board.
For its part, The Star editorialized on the plan a few weeks ago, decrying how long it is taking for anything at all to get done about a situation that is not just a nuisance but, in fact, deadly dangerous to drivers, deleterious to the health of humans and house pets, and, in winter, quite desperate for the hungry deer.
Back in my yard, once spring arrived, the deer disappeared. I dutifully sprayed the plants around the patio with Tony Minardi’s “Deer Away” and made sure the potted hibiscus was close enough to the house to keep an eye on. Friends suggested my house deer had found other browsing grounds after being frightened by the noise coming from the construction crew at work on a house just over the fence.
That theory was borne out by a few rather amusing treatises on deer “deterrents” I found on the Internet: Every imaginable form of obnoxious noise, from strings of metal cans to high-frequency sound devices, was touted. The only complication, according to these Internet experts, is that, as we on the East End know all too well by now, deer are amazingly adaptable; they are wily, and easily learn how to survive in changing human environments.
Their adaptability undoubtedly explains why I have come home on several recent occasions to find a deer lounging on my front lawn and, well, grinning at me. That deer are almost impossible to permanently shoo away has been further proved, unfortunately, by the return, too, of at least one brightly marked doe, perhaps one of the fawns now a teenager, and the inevitable devouring of some house plants that had been doing nicely under the lilacs, where I put them for the summer.
The East Hampton Town deer-management plan uses some phraseology that, in my view, creeps close to doublespeak: Expanded opportunities for hunting can “effectively and compassionately” deal with the problem until deer are “ecologically and culturally sustainable,” it says. And it dismisses immunocontraception, which may in fact actually be an ecological and compassionate method. Apparently, according to the document, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation does not believe in it.
Immunocontraception, which involves shooting darts rather than bullets to vaccinate deer so they are no longer fertile, has so far not been proven successful, but the Village of Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y, has asked the D.E.C. to approve its use in a program devised by the Tufts University Center for Animals and Public Policy. If, as seems likely, it is going to take years for the East Hampton hunting plan to bring our local deer population under control, it makes sense to me that immunocontraception should be given a try in the meanwhile. What do you think?