Deer Defenders Rally

Critics decry town-village sharpshooting plan
Wildlife advocates who oppose East Hampton Town and Village’s planned deer cull will hold a demonstration on Saturday. Morgan McGivern

       Opponents of plans to thin the deer herd this winter are pressing forward with their efforts to avert any such action. In East Hampton, both town and village officials have indicated they will allow federal “sharpshooters” to cull the herd. 

       Last month, the New York law firm Devereaux, Baumgarten filed suit on behalf of the East Hampton Group for Wildlife, the Evelyn Alexander Wildlife Center of the Hamptons, and 15 residents to stop the cull. The town, the village, and the East Hampton Town Trustees are named as defendants in the complaint.

       This month, opponents are planning protests, both substantial and symbolic, to advance their cause. On Saturday they will hold a demonstration at 1 p.m. at Hook Mill in East Hampton. Carrying signs, they plan to walk from the windmill to Herrick Park, where they will face the Newtown Lane traffic for 30 minutes.

       A petition at the website change.org, launched by Wendy Chamberlin of Bridgehampton and Zelda Penzel of East Hampton, had 10,628 signatories as of noon yesterday. Ms. Chamberlin and Ms. Penzel lead the Wildlife Preservation Coalition of Eastern Long Island, which is co-sponsoring Saturday’s demonstration. Another animal advocacy group, Long Island Orchestrating for Nature, is also a sponsor.

       Bill Crain, who heads the Group for Wildlife, said he had received much email from residents expressing a wish to participate. “They use words like ‘appalling’ and ‘sickening,’ ” he said last week. “The residents on the whole are strongly opposed to this and have a deep feeling for the animals. That’s something that’s emerged from this impending atrocity.”

       Mr. Crain referred to a 2006 study commissioned by his group, which counted the deer population at 3,293, and the 2013 town-commissioned survey, using different methods, that estimated 877 deer, to dispute Village Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach’s use of the word “epidemic” in describing the deer population. He also challenged a correlation between the deer population and the prevalence of Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses, which the mayor and the village board have cited as an impetus for the cull.

       “There’s a real passion and empathy” among residents, Mr. Crain said. “The amount of emotional distress is enormous, and I don’t think the mayor or anybody understands this. They fell into this mass hysteria over the number of deer, which turned out to be false.”

       The kiosk constructed last year at the Nature Trail in East Hampton Village features wildlife photographs by Dell Cullum, who is from Amagansett and works in the rescue and removal of wildlife. Mr. Cullum, whose photography appears in The Star, has protested the planned cull by removing his photographs, one of which depicts deer, from the kiosk.

       Members of the Ladies Village Improvement Society’s Nature Trail Committee approached Mr. Cullum last spring, he said, to ask if he would donate photographs for display at the kiosk, which it maintains. After learning last month that the village board had voted to participate in the cull, “it didn’t seem proper to be donating them when they’re killing those very animals,” he said. “I took offense — not just me but the entire community — that it wasn’t put to a vote. It would be hypocrisy to leave my pictures there.”

       The removal of his photographs, Mr. Cullum said, was “a message to the mayor and the village board that I wasn’t going to donate my work to any village organization. This was going to hurt the village as a whole, because the village was responsible for it.”

       “He’s a wonderful photographer, so it’s difficult,” said Dianne Benson, chairwoman of the Nature Trail Committee. Members are replacing the pictures in the kiosk and having a new map made, as Mr. Cullum also provided the map accompanying the photos, all of which are changed periodically.

       Mr. Cullum is particularly disturbed by the possibility that the Nature Trail itself might be among the locations from which sharpshooters would operate. “Is that bizarre action actually going to be part of the reality too?” he asked.

       Ms. Benson said last week that the trail “seems to be” a site at which the culling program would take place. She said she and Janet Dayton, the society’s president, were meeting with the mayor “to discuss an alternative to using the Nature Trail.” That meeting took place Tuesday morning.

       Mayor Rickenbach said afterward, as he has said before, that no such plan was in place. He called the selection of shooting locations “a work in progress,” saying he did not want to address specific places “because of a lot of mechanics that are unfolding.”

       Mr. Cullum plans to attend Saturday’s demonstration, which falls on his birthday. “I’m absolutely committed to be there,” he said.

       The demonstration is “part of the democratic process,” Mr. Rickenbach said last week. “Fortunately, we live in a free and open society.”

       The mayor would not comment on the lawsuit. “Counsel has a copy and I’d rather respond after I hear their legal commentary,” he said.

       Meanwhile, Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell notified the State Assembly on Tuesday that the town supported a bill authorizing the five East End towns to adopt local laws related to the culling of deer. The white-tailed deer population, Mr. Cantwell wrote, “has been linked to an epidemic of tick-borne illnesses, degradation of natural resources, crop damage and other harmful impacts to the agricultural industry, as well as car crashes.”

       Simultaneously, town residents have been receiving a flier in the mail offering to lease their land for use by “2 mature, responsible, ethical bow-hunting brothers.”

       Chris Geraghty of Ridge said his mailing was coincidental to the planned culls in East End towns, though he was aware of them. “I’m always looking for different spots to hunt,” he said this week. “I consider myself a steward of the wildlife, we’ve got to sustain the population.” Deer, he said, “don’t have any natural predators.”

       Mr. Geraghty and his brother seek to hunt on private property. “I hate to see tax dollars going to this,” he said. “To me, there’s too much government in my life already.” He said the response to his mailing had been mostly positive.