Letters to the Editor: Deer 09.28.17

Our readers' comments

Deer in Context

Lazy Point

September 22, 2017

To the Editor:

Dell Cullum’s inscrutably titled letter “No Comedy” (Sept. 7) is much less about the issue of deer management than it is a completely unsupported character assassination of Marguerite Wolffsohn. Without quoting anything she said in a meeting that he did not attend (he watched a video; okay), he repeatedly refers to her as hateful and worse and tells her to go back to “wherever” she comes from. This is abusive. 

I’ve known Marguerite since 1979. She loves nature, is very knowledgeable about wild plants and animals, and has often navigated unreasonable and personal politics to do her job to ensure that development in this town follows legal code designed to protect the habitat that wildlife depends on. 

Dell Cullum says, “The only people I know who want to kill to solve self-prescribed problems, or start mass hysteria, are psychopaths and terrorists. Am I right, or am I wrong?” The short answer is: wrong. Mr. Cullum himself refers in his letter to the fact that he eats strip steaks and sole. Does that make him a terrorist? Psychopath? Or is he absolved because he does not  to the killing?

He writes, “There are honest, hard-working, God-fearing folks who find no issues with the deer, and love all our wildlife.” But being honest, hard-working, or religious has zero to do with understanding ecology. Or deer. Other people who love nature and who love deer — including myself — consider deer in the larger context.

Deer have an effect on vegetation, tree seedlings, and the cover required by ground-nesting birds. Deer numbers are controlled either by killing or starvation. Nature’s lethal deer control in our region was wolves and mountain lions. As long as people don’t want to introduce wolves to the East End, humans are faced with considering whether to do nothing or to institute lethal deer control. 

It is possible that the disappearance of once-abundant bobwhite quail and whippoorwills resulted from lack of understory, caused by deer browsing at the densities they’ve reached by living without wolves. Tree seedling generation is affected by the browsing deer do at current densities. They’ve adapted to the suburbs, where they can avoid much human hunting. There are the considerations of car strikes and Lyme disease. And about the deers’ own nutrition and health. 

Deer are wonderful animals. Their grace is a direct adaptation to living with wolves. We have created for them an unnatural realm. And this creates issues. I don’t blame deer for any of this. I love seeing them. None of that makes the issues go away.

Reasonable people can disagree on what to do about deer. Some reasonable people do. The most knowledgeable people tend to favor a reduction in deer density toward levels deer would live at if they had natural predators. When there is sharp division on an issue, the answer is usually a compromise — not a character assassination. What to do about deer is an honest question about a real issue.

CARL SAFINA

Infamous Letter

Montauk

September 22, 2017

Dear David:

I have been a reader of The East Hampton Star for the past 27 years, barring a few years here and there when living elsewhere. And I have read a fair number of scurrilous letters in your pages, published, I believe, in the spirit of fairness The Star exhibits in representing the full spectrum of opinion of East Hampton folks.

But the infamous, imbecile letter from Dell Cullum defaming Marguerite Wolffsohn is beyond all decency. Ms. Wolffsohn is one of the most knowledgeable, hard-working, qualified people on the East Hampton Town staff, and we are indeed fortunate to have her. 

I refer your readers to the opinions presented in recent letters by Julie Sakellariadis, Rameshwar Das, and Celine Keating, for an accurate assessment of the impact on our environment and our health that the white-tailed deer represent.

JANET Van SICKLE

Sterilized Suburbia

Amagansett

September 25, 2017

To the Editor,

Last week’s letters to The Star indicate that both emotions and facts are being overlooked regarding our deer population. Marguerite Wolffsohn is wonderful in so many ways at the Planning Department, but her appointment to this deer management committee may be inappropriate, and let me explain why.

On Sept. 27, 2016, I went for a vegetation tour with the deer killing committee. The purpose was supposed to show that our underbrush, and consequently our songbirds and smaller wildlife, were suffering from the browsing. Our first stop was a wooded area that had been marked off and the saplings counted by the committee the previous spring. The idea was that the deer were eating and the saplings would be gone. 

Two counts by four members of the committee indicated that there were in fact more saplings in their marked area. Oh, well. On to the next controlled area looking for sassafras saplings. We went to Old Stone Highway along acres of reserve where deer are known to live, which bordered a private residence enclosed in an eight-foot fence with an irrigation system. Of course in that heavy deer area we could see some underbrush eaten, but there were no sassafras inside that fenced area nor outside of it. Surely any enclosed, irrigated area would be more lush, so this second stop also did not prove their point. 

I did point out to Marguerite that the last deer count proved that the deer population had been reduced, and that deer count was followed by two severe winters resulting in more die-off, so perhaps it was time for another deer count before we resort to the barbaric measures that the killing committee has recommended. Her response was a surprise, with a quick “If I see eaten brush, I don’t need a count.” She may as well have said “off with their heads,” or, even better, “I’ll get those puppies.”

This bogus excuse to protect songbirds just cracks me up. The Planning Department and our town board have the power to do just that. The problem is that I see variances given for clearing, wetland setbacks, and now height variances, if one is building by the beach. All are detrimental to our wildlife population and the protection of our groundwater. Considering the density that has occurred over the last eight years, it is ridiculous how anyone can blame the deer for our problems. 

We build, blacktop, and fence all that is good and beautiful in this town, take away their homes, and then decide it’s time to slaughter. If it’s inconvenient then remove it, has become the mantra. These are living, loving creatures, and I do not think Marguerite or the killing committee have any right to dictate their fate. First of all, the reserve areas, purchased with taxpayer money, are not the committee’s land to hand over to out-of-town hunters or any other special-interest group. I for one actually resent the fact that all of our reserve land is being opened for hunting without a public referendum on the matter. I’d prefer not to buy any of that land at all than to let the town turn it into killing fields, which they have done very quietly.

If they really want to protect songbirds and other wildlife, then the campaign rhetoric we hear about the quality of life needs to be looked at. The things that chase away and kill our wildlife are the same things that make peaceful enjoyment of one’s property very difficult. Who is responsible when it comes to unregulated building seven days a week, making noise and air pollution? What about the unregulated landscapers spewing toxic fumes through their two-cycle engines and blasting decibel levels excruciating enough to drive away any songbird? Pruning the privet hedge several times a summer to maintain suburbia during nesting season results in knocking live birds out of bushes to die. If that doesn’t get them, their small immune systems succumb to the weekly poisonous spraying being done all over with no regulation from the town.

We are not looking at the whole picture for the health of this community, instead our leaders are repeating the inaccurate information served to them from this killing committee. One example of inaccurate information being bandied about as truth is the deer collision signs, designed to instill fear and hate of deer. If that number of 475 were hits just for the number of deer/car hits in Springs, then the real number should be .00005 of cars had a hit. If that 475 is a town count, then even lower. 

Statistics show that more than 50 percent of the planet’s wildlife has been decimated due to human activity just in the last four decades. We don’t have to do this. There are contraceptive programs and 4-Poster installations that work elsewhere, but for some reason I never heard of any attempt by the Town of East Hampton to look into the actual research or search for any possible grants to help with the situation. We are allowing our great town to be turned into a sterilized suburbia, and this needless overkilling is not the answer. Not everyone is blaming the deer.

JAMES MacMILLAN

Deer Management

Springs

September 24, 2017

Dear David,

Your opinion on any subject is always obvious by their placement in the letters to the editor section, so I will not be surprised if my letter ends up near the end.

As someone who sat on the so-called deer management advisory board for a few months as a representative of the East Hampton Group for Wildlife, I have had personal experience with Ms. Wolffsohn, and it was not pleasant. I must defend and endorse Dell Cullum’s comments. Anyone who knows Dell Cullum, his contributions to our town, and his passionate involvement in our environment knows who the real environmentalist is. 

Ms. Wolffsohn was abusive to me when I presented an opposing opinion and disputed her “facts.” She apparently believes that it’s okay for a person on a public committee to scream at those she disagrees with, and I had to ask Zach Cohen, who sat idly by, to control her appalling behavior. I suggest that those who wrote strongly in her defense actually attend a meeting at which someone disagrees with Marguerite. I also directly expressed to Mr. Cohen how dissatisfied and disappointed many of us were with his management of the committee.

The advisory board, which I call the deer annihilation committee, is totally one-sided and dedicated to giving hunters pretty much anything they want. Tick-borne diseases pose a serious health risk to our community. However, the deer annihilation committee has failed to adequately address this important issue through an aggressive 4-Poster system. Other more enlightened communities have made substantial progress with both reducing Lyme disease and deer populations through humane management programs. Such enlightened 21st-century thinking is absent in this deer-killing committee. 

Residents who don’t follow the deer management issue closely may not know that under Zach’s leadership the town has expanded the designated areas on town land for hunting, expanded the hunting season, and also added weekend hunting. Even some hunters are seriously concerned about the extent of the killing. Many deer are killed by farmers, by speeding drivers, and also in the No Hunting posted preserve areas where special permits are given to designated hunters. Last winter, when walking my small dogs on a trail in a nature preserve area with a No Hunting sign, I was quite startled to see a man in full camo regalia pop up a few yards away with a giant bow and arrow. We should all give pause when we see a story like the one on CBS News this week of a hunter who killed a family’s beloved 1-year-old dog 100 feet from its home.

Another issue most residents are unaware of is that unlike vast wilderness areas out west, where hunters use high-powered rifles to cause instant death, hunters here use bow and arrow and shotgun. An animal hit with an arrow can suffer for 20 minutes or perhaps days before dying. How can so many residents endorse this barbaric behavior? What a great concept for our youth to learn.

For the first time in 17 years of walking the trails in the Stony Hill Preserve I didn’t see a single deer all winter. I’m not the first to observe that the deer seem to be fleeing the wooded preserves and the hunters, and settling in our more residential neighborhoods. Nature appears to have blessed the gentle deer with some survival skills.

Congratulations to this town board and their deer management advisory committee, who have presided over an explosive growth in tick-borne diseases and ignored humane, responsible management. For the vast majority of us who don’t hunt, there is now no safe place to enjoy the woods. Tick-borne diseases have reached epidemic proportions. It’s about time that this paper and our town board start listening to the voices of reason who advocate for humane, responsible solutions to living in peace with our amazing wildlife.

CAROL BUDA

The Number Is Wrong

East Hampton

September 24, 2017

Dear David:

There’s nothing more unnatural than a person who moves to the beautiful country, only to build a wall around the property to keep the country out. Makes as much sense as cutting down a tree to make paper, then writing on the paper “Save the Trees.” 

We all know illegal fencing and the lack of required wildlife corridors burden both the Town and Village of East Hampton. It’s the main cause for our deer population to appear dense in residential areas and also creates an unsafe element when driving, and a deadly element for the deer when speeding or reckless driving is in play, a most common occurrence nowadays. The continuing refusal to correct these problems causes the key safety concerns to the very nucleus of the vehicle-versus-deer issue. 

If these fencing and corridor issues were corrected, it would significantly decrease the risk of vehicles hitting deer on our roadways. It would also keep the deer from congregating along our roadsides, making them less visible to the general public. Out of sight, out of mind, and not so eager for folks to create misinformation about their speculated growing numbers. Why are these issues continuously ignored by the local management of our community? Why are they not being fixed, and instead allowed to continue causing safety issues for the public and the wildlife? Somebody is not doing their job, and this needs to change.

Earlier this year, new deer-crossing signs were placed in high deer-crossing locations. These locations were chosen from a map and data created by Andrew Gaites, senior analyst at the East Hampton Town Land Acquisition and Management Department. The map documents dead-deer numbers concluded from carcass roadside pickup records supplied by the town’s Highway Department, the village’s road crew, and the State Department of Transportation’s highway crew. The locations of high deer crossing are well documented on the map, and quite accurate. Unfortunately, the results only gave rise to new signs, rather than heavier speed enforcement and code enforcement inspections of proper fencing and corridors in these same locations. 

The other problem is, the number added to the signs indicating assumed valid data, resulting in the posted number of vehicle-deer collisions. It presently stands at 475. The problem is, the number is wrong.

The first problem is there’s no explanation to base the number on. Is this an annual number? If so, what year? Is this the number of collisions on the particular posted road, or a combined total townwide? Does this number include all the hamlets? The village? The state highway? Second, is everyone assuming that all roadside deer counted for this data were the result of vehicle collisions? If so, then the number 475 is most incorrect and misleading.

Two words not best used when describing data, studies or research. I brought up the issue of cause-of-death variables in regard to the chosen number at the town’s deer management advisory committee meeting. In fact, on my recording of the meeting I ask, “Does the number reflect all deer found on the roadside as being the result of vehicle collisions?” The reply — “How else would they get there?” — was barked back by another committee member, who will remain nameless. It was at that moment I sat back in my chair and knew, in the future, I would be writing this letter.

Misinformation not only renders data invalid, it compromises legitimate attempts at solutions. To ensure proper information, you must do proper research. So let’s talk proper research. It’s not too difficult counting dead deer on the side of the road, but it does take attention to detail and extra work to divide that number into the reasons why the animal died. Not all these roadside deer are from vehicle collisions, as I’m going to explain.

I was born and raised in Amagansett. I moved away and worked in the wildlife field in several states before returning home. For the past seven years I’ve operated my wildlife business here in East Hampton. I’m also a wildlife photographer, capturing the beauty of our wildlife, specifically the deer here at home. My first year in business, I had a customer call me about a dead deer in her backyard that the town wouldn’t pick up unless it was taken to a public roadside. The customer was an older woman, so I offered to drag the deer to the road for her. That first year I had 27 calls for dead-deer removal. Each year, the numbers get bigger. 

It’s great data as well, because these animals weren’t killed by vehicles. These were the hunters’ missed shots, poachers’ lost attempts, deer that got trapped inside gated properties, deer that got impaled on fences, deer that got stuck between two overlapping fences, deer whose legs were all broken trying to run across a cattle guard or trying to fit between gate doors, deer that drown in pools, and, to top off the lovely list of human invasiveness, deer dead from antifreeze and other forms of poisoning. I had one deer with a scuba spear through its neck, one with a throwing knife in its head, one suffocated with a blanket, and several that died tangled in a net or barbed wire. Most recently a baby fawn whose spinal cord was severed by a mere .144 caliber pellet from a BB gun. I’ve seen it all, and I’ve seen too much. 

In 2016 alone, I dragged 87 dead deer to the roadside that the town picked up without being told how the animal died. Only three were related to vehicle hits. That’s just my number, which doesn’t reflect the ones I transported to the dump myself, those customers who decided to do it themselves, or those who didn’t call me and figured it out on their own — landscape companies and house watchers, or other carcass-removal companies that do the same. I won’t speculate on those numbers, but the town can subtract my 84, which would indicate a more accurate number than the one presently posted. 

After all, we do want to be accurate in regard to such a sensitive subject. There is no need to add invalid fuel to an already senseless inferno. In other words, if you can figure out the proper number, don’t just post a fictitious number. It’s misinformation, misrepresenting, incomplete, or improper data, and works against the entire process of educating and warning. To the folks who seek the truth, it’s once again insulting and disrespectful. It would probably be in everyone’s best interest for the incorrect numbers to be removed from the deer-crossing signs, unless the town wishes to continue promoting the misinformation on purpose. 

It also wouldn’t hurt to reveal and compare how many collisions are the result of texting, drinking, illegal or prescription drug use, recklessness, etc. What are we doing to curb those safety issues? Those are people crashing into people. I know people aren’t as easy a target as defenseless animals, but they are undoubtedly more dangerous on the roads, and in general. 

Then there’s the real problem, speeding. The speeding issue, which personally seems so much more important an issue as far as safety, is out of control. East Hampton Town Police Chief Michael Sarlo said himself, in a recent newspaper article, “As for drivers, if everyone slowed down, obeyed the posted speed limits, and cut down on distracted driving, their ability to react to deer running across the road would improve greatly, and the number of deer strikes would be reduced significantly.” 

I don’t want to insinuate I know police tactics, but perhaps enforcing the speed limits in areas where there is heavy deer crossing might be more efficient and effective toward a solution to the problem as well. Every morning, vehicles race down Hand’s Creek, Stephen Hand’s Path, Old Stone Highway, Bluff Road, Further lane, Egypt Lane, etc., etc. These are roads where you’ll often see deer crossing. One place I never see deer crossing is the parking lot of Nick and Toni’s on North Main Street, yet I see two police vehicles parked there quite a lot. Not sure of that strategy, but I can certainly say the speeding epidemic isn’t going to heal itself.

Note: I’m working with an expert data analyst to get the proper number of vehicle/deer hits of 2016 (which is what the incorrect 475 posting represents). When this year is over, we’ll do the same for 2017. I’m also working with a team of volunteers and newly purchased radar equipment, in gathering data on speeding vehicles on many local roads. The goal is to expose the truth, debunk the bull, correct the misinformation, and show exactly where the blame lies for many of the issues unfairly saddled onto our beautiful deer.

It’s time for people to take responsibility for their failures and stop blaming our wildlife. It may have been easy to persecute the deer all these years because the deer couldn’t speak, but they have voices now. I’m one of them.

DELL CULLUM

Save the Deer

East Hampton

September 21, 2017

Dear Editor,

I have lived in the Northwest Woods of East Hampton for 30 years. I knew nothing about the deer when I first arrived and was excited to be able to garden and landscape rather than just cultivate in pots like when I lived in the city.

It didn’t take long for me to learn that I had opened a deer delicatessen! So I transplanted all those delights to the rear of my house, where I had fenced for my dog. I never had the feeling that the deer deserved a death sentence for this as they can’t know the plants are not there for them. 

In time, I learned to landscape my front yard with deer-resistant plants.  It is now lush and green and dense with vegetation.

Recently I have been hearing about an East Hampton deer management program due to overpopulation, the dangers on the road, the tick problem, etc. I have never had an accident on any road with deer in 30 years. I have not noticed an increase in the number of deer that roam in my neighborhood. What I have noticed is that there are no longer any foxes.

I usually drive the speed limit of 30 miles per hour and always have plenty of time to brake when I see a deer on the side of the road and when they jump out to cross the road. After the mess of the spaying of does in the past, seeing those poor tagged deer, some with their fawns (!), I am very suspect of any kind of deer management brought in from out of town. 

Last year, while walking my dog at Settlers Landing where Hand’s Creek flows into the harbor, I came upon a decapitated deer, whose body had been left to rot. Obviously this was not a hunter getting meat for their family, or to donate to a food pantry. They wanted the antlers!

I love the deer. Being able to coexist with them is very possible to do if one is informed and willing to compromise. It is disconcerting for those who feel the same as me, to hear casual and cold-hearted conversations of capturing and euthanizing the deer by governing officials. I understand the anger and the rage it provokes in those who disagree with this concept of deer management, and I hope we can come together in a decent and humane way to work on a solution to what is perceived as a problem, but might not be. 

I am sure everyone is acting with good intentions, but we all know what is at the end of the “road paved with good intentions.”

I will be voting for Dell Cullum as town trustee. I believe he will make a difference with this issue that will be fair and workable for all points of view, as well as the deer and other wildlife.

Save the deer.

CHRISTINE MARTIN