Residents Demand Action; Deer Cull Coming in March

Members of a hunters' group, however, blasted the plan in force.

Southold Town residents who turned out Thursday night for a public information meeting on the proposed sharpshooter program to cull the deer herd had a message for public officials: Bring it on, and fast.  

And according to Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell, the plan is slated to begin in March.

Dave Dominy of the Southold Town Management Deer Task Foce kicked off the meeting, held in the town's recreation center on Peconic Lane.

"We're all here tonight because of the voice of the town," Dominy said. 

The United States Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services involvement, via the proposed sharpshooter program, Dominy said, would be only "one more piece of the puzzle" meant to solve problems such as car accidents, tick-born disease, and devastation to the environment caused by an overabundance of deer.

Hunters, he said, are still a critical component. 

The sharpshooter program, he said, was only a proposal. "Nothing is set in stone."

Russell said the need for action was immediate. "We have a real crisis in Southold Town. There are too many white-tailed deer," he said.

With limitations imposed by the state regarding hunting regulations, Russell said, hunting alone will not solve the problem.

Joe Gergela, executive director of the Long Island Farm Bureau, asked each of the five East End towns to contribute toward the program; the LIFB has a $250,000 grant. Southold Town's contribution is $25,000.

"Southold Town is 100 percent in support of this program," Russell said.

At a deer forum held in September, Russell said, "The voice of residents was resounding. You have all spoken to us, loud and clear. We need to take more action now."

The sharpshooter program, he said, won't replace hunting, still the most critical weapon the town has against deer.

Gergela said fencing only moves the deer into residential communities. 

"Southold is the leader on the East End in doing something about this issue," Gergela said, followed by East Hampton.

Farmers feel deer are decimating their crops, to the tune of $3 million per year, Gergela said.

While deer advocates have spoken out, Gergela said, "We are hearing from a lot of people not from Long Island, or they are famous people with a lot of money but really not locals and they have no investment in this community or any other community in the Hamptons other than owning a second home. The people that live here have a vested interest and a lot of citizens not happy."

He assured that the plan was to donate the venison to food banks.

Gergela said he was approached by one man who said the program was bad for hunters. "I told him, 'You are misunderstanding. We are just trying to take a few deer out.'"

His comment led to fireworks between members of the group Hunters for Deer, LLC, founded by Mike Tessitore.

Tessitore said there were many unanswered questions about the program. 

Gergela said hunters were critical to the deer issue, but hunters hit a stumbling block in the form of political stalemate that is exacerbating the problem — Assemblyman Robert Sweeney, of Lindenhurst. Sweeney, Russell said, refuses to budge on statutory changes that would allow legislation to move forward through the Assembly so that the deer population can be managed locally.

Tessitore, of East Quogue, said the sharpshooter program was using the public's tax dollars; he said he represented 3000 hunters.

"This affects me and my hunting," he said. "We're putting food on our tables."

"You are being forced into this because the legislation to make hunters successful isn't here," Gergela said.

Tessitore, and other members of his organization that took to the podium, said they were willing to cull the deer for free, but the USDA was able to do all the things local hunters are not allowed to do, including using rifles at night and baiting.

"You want to take our deer, but we won't let you," Tessitore said. "You might as well pack up your stuff and go."

Russell agreed the town would rather use local hunters and pointed to the program already in place, including a refrigerated cooler the town has for hunters. But state legislation is so restrictive that local hunters "can't get the job done," he said. As soon as the stalled legislation passes in the New York State Assembly, Russell said to the hunters, "We know we can rely on you."

Other hunters asked why the USDA program had to happen immediately; Tessitore said accidents related to deer are actually down statewide.

"It's a dire situation," said a woman in the crowd.

One woman said during the past years of her life, she has been plagued by tick born diseases. "This is a health issue for me. I had a fever of 105 degrees for seven days."

Mattituck resident Marie Domenici said beyond the health and safety concerns, once the major media outlets publicized the "epidemic proportions of Lyme disease" in Southold, property values would plummet.

Other members of the Hunters for Deer Group pleaded with the town to allow them to come in and cull the herd.

Claire Kennedy of Southold said she came to speak on behalf of her children, 17, 15, and 5, all of whom have tested positive for tick-born disease. Her oldest boy missed three Regents exams and had to drop out of cross country because he had no stamina; he was hospitalized. "I thought he was dying," she said. "I don't want to think that my children have to go through this, all through their lives, it comes back. And this isn't from tromping through the woods — this is from playing in the yard. For me, this is personal. It's my children."

Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski said the problem has grown in his lifetime; when he was a child, no one saw deer.

New York State Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo said the public needed to put political pressure on Sweeney. "It's an election year. We need to stick it to him."

Some questioned the safety of sharpshooters.

Martin Lowney, New York State Director of USDA Wildlife Services, outlined the sharpshooter plan and said the practice was safe, and there have never been any firearm accidents.

Lowney laid out the facts: Crop damage in Suffolk County that jumped from $1.75 to $5 million from 2004 to 2009. New Yorkers, he said, have a one in 160 chance of a deer vehicle collision, with 35,000 annually. He also discussed tick born diseases and damage to the environment.

With 30,000 deer in Suffolk County, and currently, approximately 2,500 harvested by hunters and 925 with kill permits, around 26,500 deer are left.

To stabilize the population, 30 percent of those deer must be killed, he said.

"The current program doesn't work," he said. "You're going the wrong direction. You need to do more to slow down this reproductive engine."

The sharpshooter program can only commence with landowner approval, and with elected officials helping to identify where the culling can take place.

The culling program, Lowney said, would entail shooting from elevated stands, 15 to 29 feet tall, over bait, such as corn or apples, and shooting from mobile vehicles in the evening and at night, around 2 or 3 a.m.

FLIR thermal imaging devices would be used to pinpoint deer, as well as other mammals; suppressed firearms would be used.

To maximize funds, Lowney said the focus would be on does and young female deer, shooting them "humanely" in the brain.

Discussing contraceptive alternatives, such as the contraceptive Gonacon, Lowney said was not an effective measure, as the procedure must be repeated every two years, forever, and was costly, up to $30 million, every two years. Plus, 80 percent of females must be treated to stabilize the current population, he said.

Currently, Lowney said, there are 50 to 80 deer per square mile in Suffolk County; that number must be reduced to 15 to protect the environment and less than 20 to prevent accidents on the road.

Once deer are killed, they will be given to food banks, he said.

Don Stewart of the North Fork Deer Management Alliance applauded the program. "As responsible citizens, this is the right thing to do," he said.

He asked how residents could help.

The USDA representatives said neighbors could volunteer to help with baiting, identifying shooting areas, and field dressing the deer once killed.

Sherry Thomas of Orient said "the sterilization myth is just totally out of control." She added, "There is a widespread myth that there is a magic bullet and until you get the facts out, there will be conflict in the community."

Loud applaud followed her comment.

Only one man, Ron Coons, a second home owner in Laurel, spoke out for the deer. "I'd like to be the voice for the deer," he said. "When you come to Southold with your children, you get a great feeling. That's why a lot of people come out here."

He said power point presentations are often slanted and said he'd done research on deer management programs in other parts of the country that included sterilization.

He added that he'd rather see local hunters tackle the problem. "We're better off handling it ourselves," he said.

One resident asked about the cost of killing the deer and how many would be killed per night.

Lowney said there is no per-night cost and conditions could vary each night.

oonald January 17, 2014 at 09:52 PM
Born and raised on the east end of Long Island and a hunter, I can't believe they won't let the local hunters familiar with the area and surrounding hunt these deer. Hunters are just as effective as sharp shooters we practice and shoot all the time. And we eat everything we harvest, let us fill are freezers, it's are property and towns as well as are tax dollars


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