Deer Cull Is Favored

Critics say village’s mail-in survey was flawed
Durell Godfrey

Nearly four out of five respondents to a questionnaire mailed to East Hampton Village residents in June would favor a lethal approach to deer management, according to the results of the survey announced at the village board’s work session last Thursday. 

Upon hearing the results of the 10-question survey, the board quickly reached a consensus that action to reduce the population is needed. 

The questionnaire was intended to gauge the level of interest in moving forward with some kind of deer-management program, said Becky Hansen, the village administrator. 

Two thousand and thirty-eight questionnaires were mailed in June, Ms. Hansen said, and 742 were returned. That 36.4-percent response rate, she said, made for a valid data set. 

Seventy-one percent of respondents said that another phase of the village’s deer-sterilization program, a controversial exercise for which it hired an out-of-state contractor, was very important, with 11 percent calling it somewhat important. Sixteen percent of respondents answered, “Do not continue this program.” 

Asked if the village should consider options other than sterilization to manage the deer population, 81 percent answered yes, and 13 percent said no, Ms. Hansen said. Of the 675 who responded to the question “Would you support culling,” 583 said yes, and 92 voted no. 

Eighty-three percent of respondents said that the village’s deer population is “very concerning,” while another 11 percent called it “somewhat concerning.” 

A few more questionnaires were recently returned, Ms. Hansen said, but were too late to be included in these results. 

White Buffalo, a nonprofit organization based in Connecticut and hired by the village, sterilized more than 200 deer in 2015, mostly does. The animals were captured and sedated, and then surgically sterilized in a village-owned building before being released. The village has spent approximately $190,000 on the program to date. 

Critics called the program both cruel and ineffective, pointing to several deaths as a consequence of the capture or surgery. Members of the East Hampton Group for Wildlife have denounced the program at several board meetings. Sportsmen have also criticized the board, arguing that they could cull the herd at no cost to the village while providing food for themselves and their families as well as food pantries. 

The questionnaire itself was also criticized as biased and leading. “It lists a lot of the problems that deer are blamed for, often wrongly,” Bill Crain of the Group for Wildlife complained last summer. The questionnaire, he said, “leads people to the question of a continuing sterilization, or the other option, a cull.”

Nonetheless, “We will move ahead, working with others, to come up with an amicable solution,” Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach Jr. said last Thursday. The bottom line, he said, is that “there is an overpopulation of deer within the footprint of the village and the surrounding environs. It’s a public health issue, a quality-of-life issue. . . . We want to get a handle on the overpopulation.” The issue is fraught with emotion, he said, and “we have to rise above the emotion and deal with it in an open-minded, fair way.” 

Board members agreed, some saying that there should be an examination of surrounding municipalities’ efforts. “I’m especially interested in the Village of North Haven program,” said Barbara Borsack. 

That program has two components, Ed Deyermond, that village’s clerk, said on Tuesday in an interview, a cull and the use of what are commonly known as 4-Poster bait stations, which apply a pesticide to the head and neck area of the animals as they feed on corn in the station’s center trough. Last year, hunters who were vetted and hired by a wildlife coordinator killed around 125 deer, Mr. Deyermond said. 

“Even our hunters say, when they harvest a deer here there are no ticks on it,” he said, “whereas in Noyac and East Hampton they’re loaded with ticks. Talking to residents, the tick count is way down here — attributable to the 4-Poster.” The village budgets $55,000 annually for the bait stations. “It’s an expensive program,” he said, “but it certainly has results.” 

Mr. Deyermond did note that, “Unlike East Hampton Village, we’re basically an island. We do get some deer that swim from Shelter Island and run in from Noyac, but for the most part we’re a self-contained unit.” 

Mayor Rickenbach said that the board is open to comments from the public, “but we will only deal with matters that are constructive and objective.”

“We’re taking it to the next level upward,” he concluded. “We will move ahead, hopefully dealing in an objective and responsible manner.”