As both the Village and Town of East Hampton move to reduce the deer population through a culling program developed by the Long Island Farm Bureau and the Wildlife Services division of the United States Department of Agriculture, angry residents are organizing in opposition.
A petition on the website change.org headed “Stop Long Island Farm Bureau/USDA Stealth Plan to Brutally Slaughter 5,000 East End Deer” had 1,880 signatures as of noon yesterday. Separately, petitions are being circulated by hand and online, to be delivered to town and village officials and to the Sagaponack Village Board, which recently agreed to participate in the program.
Officials of the Humane Society of the United States are also examining the culling program and considering action. Ron Delsener, a concert promoter and animal rights activist who has a house in East Hampton, has already instructed the New York law firm Devereaux, Baumgarten to take legal action to halt any such program in the village or town.
In the early fall, officials from the Farm Bureau and the U.S.D.A. proposed to village and town officials a deer-management plan primarily involving sharpshooters. A Sept. 30 roundtable discussion drew both enthusiastic support, from groups including the Village Preservation Society and the East Hampton Sportsmen’s Alliance, and furious opposition, from Mr. Delsener and representatives of the East Hampton Group for Wildlife.
Proponents cited the prevalence of Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses, the danger presented by deer-vehicle collisions, and the increasing use of deer fences, changing the face of the village, in support of the culling program.
Laura Simon, a wildlife ecologist with the Humane Society, said in an interview that her organization became involved after being contacted by several residents who had read of the village’s plans. “The scope and the magnitude of this planned deer cull is truly alarming,” she said, predicting that the program would be ineffective given the “bounceback effect” — an increase in fertility following a population decrease. “Deer will have twins and triplets after their numbers have been reduced,” Ms. Simon said. “This is going to be a long-term, ongoing commit Continued from A1
ment from towns to try to keep killing deer every year, and then their numbers will pop right back up.”
Culling, she asserted, was ineffective in addressing Lyme disease and related illnesses. “The science, and there is an abundance of it, proves that you can’t control the human risk of Lyme disease by killing deer . . . This is a multi-host tick. It’s on birds, small mammals, large mammals.”
Mice and chipmunks, Ms. Simon said, are the primary hosts of larval ticks. “We’re not seeing this is an effective tactic anywhere, unless Long Island is planning to kill all its songbirds, raccoons, shrews, even salamanders. Unless they’re going to declare war on all wildlife, you’re not going to see a result from killing deer. It’s deceiving to people. It gives them false hope.”
Wendy Chamberlin, who lives in Bridgehampton, was among the South Fork residents who called the Humane Society. Ms. Chamberlin said she was among at least 20 people who were helping to distribute petitions last weekend, which she said were being enthusiastically received. “I haven’t run across anyone yet that has not wanted to sign this,” she said.
Ms. Chamberlin agreed that the deer population does pose conflicts, but “we’re the ones that put this species in this position, and we’re doing it worldwide, causing species to be cornered like this.” She said the effort to prevent culling was both scientifically and ethically important. “We can’t just keep using these last-minute radical means to deal with human-wildlife conflicts,” she said.
Ms. Simon, noting that her organization has a history of taking legal action to stop government-sanctioned culls, said immuno-contraception and sterilization were humane and effective alternatives, and suggested a program to educate homeowners about kinds of plants and landscaping that would not be attractive to deer.
Larry Cantwell, the town’s incoming supervisor, supports the proposed culling program. “I do believe we need to reduce the deer population, and am not at all opposed to doing that by hunting,” he told The Star. Mr. Cantwell noted that to date the town has taken no steps toward implementing a program beyond allocating funds in its next budget.
That money, said Councilman Dominick Stanzione, an outgoing member of the town board, at the Sept. 30 discussion, will go to pay a deer-management coordinator whose responsibility will be to organize a permanent deer-management advisory committee. “But the question of whether or not to move forward is for the entire town board,” Mr. Cantwell said.
East Hampton Village Mayor Paul Rickenbach Jr. has previously stated his reluctant support for culling. “I am aware of the petition apparently being circulated, and to the greatest possible extent I, as mayor, am empathetic,” he told The Star last week. “But it’s reached epidemic proportions. All things considered, we feel we are taking the necessary first step.”
The mayor said another meeting with the Farm Bureau and U.S.D.A. would be held later this month, at which time some specific locations from which sharpshooters would operate would be identified. “It’s not going to be helter-skelter, willy-nilly. We will be coming up with a few selected sites that will be most beneficial,” he said.
Mr. Rickenbach said he believed the meeting would be under the auspices of the Farm Bureau and the U.S.D.A., “but if I have any say in it, there should be complete transparency,” and it should be open to the public.