Feds and State Push Collaboration

Nightime hunts, using weapons fitted with silencers, would focus on female deer

    East Hampton Town officials on Tuesday discussed the town’s participation in the Long Island Deer Project, a collaboration between the Long Island Farm Bureau and the federal Department of Agriculture’s New York Wildlife Services, through which the deer herd across the five East End towns and Brookhaven would be reduced by culling. East Hampton Village officials were considering the program last week.

    According to the U.S.D.A. proposal, in rural areas, deer would be drawn to bait stations under elevated stands manned by the agency’s hunters, or sharpshooters using “suppressed weapons” — guns fitted with a silencer — would target the animals from a vehicle. Both operations would take place at night.

    Similar actions could take place in urban or suburban neighborhoods, or deer would be captured at bait stations using drop nets and immediately euthanized with a small-caliber weapon. The hunting would focus on female deer, according to the proposal, “to more quickly reduce the reproductive potential of the eastern Long Island deer population.”

    A steering committee of public officials, organizations, and stakeholders would be set up, and written permission from landowners, both private and public, would be needed before any hunting took place.

    The town recently adopted a deer management plan that includes the potential for culling, but calls for independent decision-making on each of the possible actions outlined.

    Councilman Dominick Stanzione, who oversaw development of the management plan, asked the board on Tuesday for the authority to continue discussions with the U.S.D.A. Supervisor Bill Wilkinson and Councilwoman Theresa Quigley agreed.

    Councilwoman Sylvia Overby said a culling program has not yet been publicly discussed, and should be before the board moves ahead. The board has added $15,000 to next year’s budget to have a town employee act as “deer management coordinator.”

    Bill Crain, the president of the East Hampton Group for Wildlife, addressed the board. “I do not believe that most people in town want to see anything like a cull,” he said. “It’s really a slaughter. I ask you to imagine what it’s like to be in the deer’s shoes — in the deer’s hooves — during a cull.”

    “The focus should be on the humane, nonlethal methods first,” he said. “Certainly go to public hearings first.”

    Mr. Crain questioned the need to radically reduce the deer herd, which, he said, has declined in number, according to some research. He implored the board to “gather the research . . . go in with your eyes open.” The deer management plan, he said, creates a “false sense of emergency.”

    “Do you want to go down the road of research and reason,” he asked, “or do you want to be a killing field?”

    Mr. Stanzione acknowledged the differing points of view on deer. But, he said, the ultimate “responsibility of public officials [is] to protect their residents from harm,” even when moral issues create a conflict.

     The Long Island Farm Bureau has secured a  $200,000 grant toward the U.S.D.A.-led program. Initial estimates put the total cost at $505,490, depending on the ultimate scope of work.

    As many as 5,250 deer could be killed, according to the federal proposal, 2,400 to 3,000 in rural areas and 900 to 2,250 in urban and suburban neighborhoods.

    The shooting would take place in January and in March, said Allen Gosser, a U.S.D.A. wildlife biologist, and would have to continue over three years in order to have a significant effect.