Deer Cull Opponents Rally At Hook Mill

Bill Crain, president of the East Hampton Group for Wildlife, addressed opponents of East Hampton Town and Village’s planned deer cull at Herrick Park on Saturday. Morgan McGivern Photos

      Waving placards and chanting, some 250 people marched from Hook Mill to Herrick Park in East Hampton Village on Saturday afternoon, proclaiming their opposition to the deer culling planned by the village and East Hampton Town. The common ground on which many sportsmen and animal-rights activists found themselves was in evidence, with a number of those taking part arguing that local hunters should do the culling rather than professionals.  A small number of proponents of the sharpshooter hunt, which is set to begin next month, also milled among the crowd, resulting in sporadic angry confrontations.            

       The East Hampton Village Board voted to appropriate $15,000 for the first of what its members say will be a multi-year culling effort. This decision followed a September presentation by representatives of the Long Island Farm Bureau and the federal Department of Agriculture’s wildlife services division, which have solicited participation from municipalities across Long Island. In addition to East Hampton, culls are planned in Southold and Brookhaven.

       East Hampton Town adopted its own deer management plan, calling for measures to reduce the deer population, last year, and Larry Cantwell, supervisor since January, has expressed his support for town participation. In addition to $15,000 earmarked for deer management in the current budget, another $15,000 could be appropriated for culling, Len Bernard, the town’s budget director, said yesterday.

       Lyme disease, deer-vehicle collisions, destruction of landscaping and undergrowth, and the proliferation of deer fences, which impact the character of this area, are the most-cited rationales behind the culling program, which calls for sharpshooters to be stationed above baited areas at night. 

       Those demonstrating on Saturday argued that deer are not the sole or even the primary vector of ticks that carry Lyme and other diseases, that a slow-driving campaign would reduce collisions, and that a wealth of flora unappetizing to deer exists for landscaping.

       “We have a groundswell of objection to this that’s visible,” Wendy Chamberlin, a Bridgehampton resident who has been active in the anti-culling campaign, said at the demonstration. “I just don’t know how these officials can ignore this now, but I’ve been surprised before.” Ms. Chamberlin said the Young/Som mer law firm of Albany and Saratoga Springs, N.Y., had been retained and is poised to sue any municipalities that begin culling.

       Ms. Chamberlin advocates an approach that would rely on immunocontraception. “They haven’t done their due diligence, they haven’t shown cause, they haven’t listened to alternatives,” she complained of village and town officials. “We see no other choice. We’ve tried to talk, we’ve tried to negotiate, but it’s not working.”

       Ron Delsener, a part-time East Hampton resident, led the march along with Bill Crain of the East Hampton Group for Wildlife. Mr. Delsener, a well-known concert promoter, has been outspoken in his opposition to the cull, paying for advertisements in local newspapers.

       Between arguments with the East Hampton art dealer Ruth Vered, who angrily recounted near-death experiences involving deer, and Patricia Hope, the president of the East Hampton School Board who taught science at East Hampton High School and was distributing literature advocating immunocontraception, Mr. Delsener spoke bluntly about local officials.

       “It’s easy to shoot,” he said. “Most towns do, because they’re illiterate. This town, I thought, had some class. They have 250 people — these people — who have class.”

       Ira Barocas of Springs marched with his niece. “We had a bogus count,” he said, referring to population surveys conducted in 2006 and 2013 that reached varying conclusions. “We don’t know what the problem really is, and we’ve just got this knee-jerk reaction being led by special interests in the form of Joe Gergela.” Mr. Gergela is the executive director of the Long Island Farm Bureau.

       Mr. Barocas said the cull was not based on science, but he was not optimistic about efforts to stop it. He called the protest “a gesture that needs to be made.”

       Observing nature in its natural state is “one of the greatest joys I’ve had in living here from the time I was an infant,” said Michael Dickerson of Northwest Woods, East Hampton. “My great concern is that every time we interfere with nature’s plan, we screw stuff up.”

       Shawn Christman of Montauk said local hunters rather than hired sharpshooters should be able to take enough deer to reduce the population while feeding their families and supplying food pantries. “It’s just not something we need the federal government to step in and do,” he said.

       “People come out from the city and they want a piece of the country,” Mr. Christman said. “They build big fences around their properties and then leave for the winter. These habitats are fenced off. . . . That’s why we have a concentration in small areas and deer running out in the roads — there’s nowhere for them to go. We have a people problem, not a deer problem.”

       Mike Tessitore of East Quogue, who is with a group called Hunters for Deer, came to the demonstration to show that hunters and animal-rights activists alike reject the rationale behind a professional cull.

 The Farm Bureau and U.S.D.A.’s wildlife services division, he said, “are shoving it down our throat, saying, ‘You have to pay for a problem that we don’t even know exists,’ when we have hunters that could take care of the situation if legislation was passed to provide less stringent hunting regulations.” It has been reported that Hunters for Deer will ask the State Department of Environmental Conservation to allow its members to shoot at night and use bait, as sharpshooters are.

       Dave Stevens, who also lives in Northwest Woods, did not participate in the demonstration but observed the crowd at Hook Mill. “You can’t have untrained people running around with guns. I would think that a well-placed, high-powered rifle round provides for a cleaner and more humane kill than letting a deer run through the woods with an arrow sticking out of its side,” he said, arguing that allowing deer to overpopulate is crueler than killing them.

       Ms. Chamberlin was also scornful of the U.S.D.A., likening its officials to “sociopaths that have been let out of jail.” Surveying the crowd standing along Newtown Lane, she was confident that opponents of the planned cull would prevail. “We’re definitely going to stop it,” she said. “There’s no question.”