The East Hampton Village Board approved a plan on Friday to bring in sharpshooters to reduce the deer herd, over the objections of many members of the audience and the announcement by a New York City attorney that he had filed suit against the village, the town, and the town trustees in an effort to prevent the plan from going forward.
“Sometimes we have to seize the moment as a legislative body and do the right thing for the people we represent,” said Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach Jr. The board then voted unanimously to sign a contract with the Long Island Farm Bureau and spend up to $15,000 for a program that would bring in sharpshooters from the United States Department of Agriculture to bait and shoot deer within village limits.
Mayor Rickenbach called the culling a “necessary first step” in what he said would be a multiyear plan to reduce the deer herd, whose size, he said, has created a public health crisis, a nuisance, and a quality-of-life and economic problem.
He stressed that the village would be willing to consider a contraceptive program, as many in the audience requested, at some point in the future. “This is a multiyear scenario, and we’ll use whatever disciplines are available to us,” he said. “Please give us credit for that.”
Richard Lawler, a board member, took a moment to explain why he was voting for the culling. He said the issue had been “thoroughly vetted” at a public forum in the fall, and that “I heard nothing today that would change my mind and make me vote otherwise. We are just taking one step in a process that is probably going to involve several steps along the way to accomplish our goals.”
The board acted even as Edward Lebeaux of the law firm Devereaux, Baumgarten said he had filed two lawsuits the day before in State Supreme Court seeking to halt the plan and challenging its validity on behalf of the East Hampton Group for Wildlife, the Evelyn Alexander Wildlife Center in Hampton Bays, and 15 individuals, including Bill Crain, Annie Noonan, and Carol Buda, all of whom implored the village board, just before it voted, to abandon the culling program.
Mr. Crain said the cull would create a nightmare for the deer population, which would be “lured, baited into an area, and then — pow! — killed.” It would also be “devastating to children” who love animals, and “a betrayal of their faith in us as protectors of life,” he said.
Larry Penny, former director of the East Hampton Town Natural Resources Department, also spoke against culling, calling it a “regressive, primitive” approach that flies in the face of the community’s reputation as progressive. Deer, he said, are often erroneously blamed for the increase in Lyme disease, which, said Mr. Penny, is in fact spread by white-footed mice.
Mr. Penny, who writes a nature column for The Star, added that claims that deer are devastating the forest understory were unfounded. “I did an extensive survey of the undergrowth” in local woods, he said. “The undergrowth has never been more healthy than it is now.”
Bill Doherty, an Amagansett resident with a background in statistics, said that perhaps the village was looking for bad news where none existed. He pointed to a recent aerial infrared-imaging study conducted by the town, which showed a population of about 877 deer, as compared to a study in 2006 that estimated the size of the herd at 3,300.
He suggested that perhaps the number of deer had actually declined, and that the reported increase in car-deer collisions had more to do with the number of drivers on the roads, and the rise in Lyme disease cases more to do with an increase in the human population.
“It’s fairly commonly known in scientific circles that reducing the size of the herd will not drastically reduce the incidence of Lyme disease,” said John Broderick, also of Amagansett. As to car-deer collisions, he suggested the problem was that “people don’t want to slow down.” He also cited the “bounceback” theory, which holds that when deer are hunted, it leaves more land and food for the survivors, who then have more offspring, negating the hunt.
Wendy Chamberlin of Bridgehampton presented the board with a petition circulated by the Wildlife Preservation Coalition that she said contained 10,000 signatures, many collected via the Internet, opposing the hunt. She said at least 60 percent of the signatures came from Suffolk County residents, and some from as far away as Australia.
“East Hampton Village has a big deer population. They are a nuisance to some people, who have loud voices,” she told the board. Of the hunt, “Forget about how revolting and unethical it is, it won’t work.” She said she recognized that some culling may be necessary at some point, but asked the board to try a contraception program first.
Kathleen Kocher of Brookhaven branded the culling program “the largest mass killing of deer in New York State history” and said humans were to blame for the situation. “We are encroaching on their land. We have moved them farther and farther,” she said. “All they are looking for is something to eat and to be safe.”