Deer are changing East Hampton’s natural landscape, causing untold tens of thousands of dollars in property damage and endangering human health — and it is about to get a whole lot worse. Just think for a minute, if you will, about all the does and their young encountered here these days. If just half of those yearlings are female, and they begin to breed while their mothers are still in their reproductive prime, the local population is going to experience exponential growth.
Such is the backdrop within which the East Hampton Deer Management Group has been working. Its draft plan for limiting the deer will be the subject of a hearing this evening at 7 in Town Hall. “The emergency is already obvious,” the plan’s authors wrote.
Among their recommendations is getting a better estimate of how many deer actually live here. However, the facts already argue for aggressive control. Increases in the number of ticks and in tick-borne diseases — including a once-unknown allergy to meat apparently spread by the lone star tick, which can cause fatal anaphylaxis — have been tied to the deer population. In addition, the period from 2000 to 2011 saw the number of motor vehicle accidents involving deer increase four-fold, according to the East Hampton Town Police Department.
The environmental cost is somewhat more difficult to quantify, but it is significant. Deer are altering East Hampton and not for the better. According to the draft, deer have changed the distribution of wildlife and migratory species and altered the “fundamental structure” of local ecosystems. Many wooded sections of East Hampton lack nearly all native herbaceous plants, and with no saplings coming up due to deer, nothing will replace canopy trees as they age and decay, the draft said. And farmers and property owners have been forced to install costly fences to protect crops, gardens, and ornamental plantings — about 40 of them have been reviewed by the town’s architectural review board in the last two years, and many, many more have undoubtedly been put in without permits, making unintential lawbreakers of residents who feel they have no other choice.
The deer management working group considered the proposal by the East Hampton Group for Wildlife that fertility-control measures be used in lieu of hunting. The draft notes, however, that fertility control is permitted by the State Department of Environmental Conservation only for scientific research, and it recommends that the town consider such research once the deer are reduced to a healthy level. Instead, the management draft suggests that the town adopt a five-year program, ideally with the cooperation of the other East End towns, that includes hunting. Although this is bound to arouse spirited opposition, at this point there appears to be little option.