The silence emanating from the North Haven Village Board over its decision last month to hire a private company to undertake a deer cull in that community is frustrating for anyone who wants to know what their government is up to and downright childish on the part of the board.
Readers may recall that last year the village, after holding a series of very public and well attended meetings, determined that its longtime efforts to control the deer population needed to be improved because of concern over the rise of tick-borne illnesses, safety on the roads, and damage to lawns and gardens.
In February, the board authorized Mayor Jeff Sander to negotiate a contract with White Buffalo, a Connecticut firm that specializes in reducing the deer population of suburban communities. At the time, Mayor Sander explained that the company would bring in hunters, armed with shotguns, who would be charged with reducing the size of the village’s deer herd to about 100, a process, he said, that could take several years.
But the village’s decision just happened to coincide with the hullabaloo surrounding a broader deer cull championed by the Long Island Farm Bureau and involving sharpshooters from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services. Once opponents of that effort went to court and East Hampton Town and Village dropped out of the Farm Bureau program, North Haven officials, no doubt concerned over the threat that they too would face a legal challenge, clammed up.
Requests from this newspaper and others for the most basic of information about the village’s deal with White Buffalo have gone unanswered. Village officials will not say whether the village has been sued, whether a contract has even been signed, how much the hunt is expected to cost or what it will do if it can’t strike a deal before spring arrives, the trees fill out and seasonal weekenders return, making a hunt both impractical and dangerous.
The board’s refusal to discuss its deer cull is ironic in light of the fact that, judging by the attendance—or more accurately the lack of attendance—at recent board meetings, village residents either completely agree with the policy or simply don’t care one way or the other about it. Contrast that to the scene 20 years ago when the board, faced with a growing deer population and angry residents who didn’t want to see their expensive (and often inappropriate ) landscapes being denuded by hungry deer, agreed to allow bowhunting within the village limits. Opponents of hunting crowded Village Hall for months before and months after the board made that decision, with meetings often devolving into angry shouting matches between the two camps.
It’s a good bet the village attorney has advised board members to zip their lips because of the threat of a lawsuit. That would be understandable if reporters were trying to ferret out details of the village’s legal strategy, but they are not. They are simply inquiring about a decision adopted by an elected board on behalf of its citizenry.
That’s what North Haven Village Board members have seemed to forgotten: They have been elected to do the public’s work—and to do it in public. They might be able to get away with silence now because of the lack of interest in the deer cull, but some day they will touch a nerve, and their constituents will be well justified in demanding answers.