By Annette Hinkle
Conversation with Wendy Chamberlin, a wildlife rehabilitator and organizer of the Wildlife Preservation Coalition of Eastern Long Island. The group is sponsoring an online petition protesting the Long Island Farm Bureau’s plan to hire USDA sharpshooters to cull the East End Deer herd this winter.
How many people have signed your petition against the sharpshooter program?
The members are now 9,000 who have signed on to the petition. They’re from all over the world but 60 percent are from the East End. We did a lot of hand petitions and people from all over — Southold, Montauk, Calverton and everywhere — signed on.
No one knew about this. The first reaction is shock, disbelief and horror. It’s a very violent program. There is a deer problem on the East End, but there are other ways to deal with it rather than this extremely expensive method which costs half a million dollars a year.
Your suggesting immuno-contraception, correct?
Immuno-contraception has come a long way. You just have to mark and dart them. The PZP – which is a protein that comes from pig ovaries and causes an immune reaction in the deer so she’s not able to reproduce — has been around for a couple decades. They’re refining it. You mark them with a kind of dye that stains the deer and identifies it in the future. The first inculcation gives two years of infertility. If you inoculate them within two years, you can get five more years of infertility.
But I’ve heard it’s very expensive.
The real money comes when you have to physically handle the deer. This way you don’t and it’s more or less about $84 a deer.
That seems optimistically low given the labor involved in this kind of effort.
I’m in contact with a hunter who is in contact with a whole group of hunters who would volunteer to mark and dart them for years. We have a hundred hunters who would take care of the program – from Brookhaven east. You’d need more in certain areas like on the North Fork. These hunters love the deer, respect the deer and know them better than anyone. If you want to try to find the does, it’s the hunters who can do that best and watch over their areas for years.
So you really see this as a viable option?
There’s no one silver bullet for the deer problem. We have to work in each community and devise an individual plan. Immuno-contraception — or birth control — can work. North Haven is an excellent spot for it and Shelter Island is excellent. A place like Water Mill would be more difficult.
I came to an agreement with Sagaponack to bring a plan to them. I have a general outline for a management plan, which I spent a year working on, but it’s not specifically tailored to Sagaponack. We’d have to go around with hunters and get an idea of how many deer there are.
You need to use every tool in the tool box and in a place like Sagaponack you would probably have some hunters do some killing. Unfortunately I wish I didn’t see that, but I have to be realistic and there would need to be some culling. But at least this would be targeted hunting.
But even if the municipalities agreed, what about the legal approvals for a plan like this?
It would have to be through the DEC [Department of Environmental Conservation]. They would have to approve it and they would have oversight. It involves the organization of all the hunters with nuisance permits rather than one here and one there. As long as the town is in agreement, we would work out plans tailor made for them that combine several options — including culling to some degree — but only in conjunction with the contraception.
I sense a serious need for scientific oversight in a program of this scale as well. You talked about Dr. Allen Rutberg of Tufts University and a deer immuno-contraception plan he ran in Hastings-on-Hudson. Would he be someone you would try to involve in this?
I’ve spoken to Dr. Rutberg and he would come down to oversee any project here. First we’ll bring down Dr. Rutberg to speak to Sagaponack and maybe North Haven. If we can prove to them this will solve their problem, maybe they’ll go along with it.
What about funding?
People are so concerned about this, if we need to start looking for money everyone is poised to do that. We’re willing to put the money together to fund the first one to go.
We have a really good idea of cost and its certainly doable and fundable, not forever, but we have the labor for free and the plan which I’m building for free. I’m doing this with the Humane Society and Dr. Rutberg. I’m the on-the-ground person.
So what do you want for Christmas this year?
For everybody on the East End to tell the USDA to go away and let a group of us bring them a presentation tailor made for their community using all the options and start a plan that works for them but is inexpensive, scientific, humane and sustainable for the future. We need to stop managing deer this way and figure out a more scientific way that works and doesn’t alienate others.
I expect that under my tree Christmas morning.