By Kathryn G. Menu
Residents were largely divided during a public hearing last Thursday night on East Hampton Town’s draft deer management plan. The proposal is aimed at addressing what some believe is a burgeoning white tail deer population. It’s a situation some argue has increased the prevalence of tick borne illnesses in East Hampton, has led to reduction of forest understory and an increase in deer related traffic accidents.
On Thursday, stories about the impact tick borne illnesses have had on residents were interspersed with calls of support for the plan, spearheaded by Dominick Stanzione, East Hampton Town councilman. Criticism was also levied against the primary means for dealing with the deer population — professional culling of the herd — and some residents wondered if the concept has been researched enough for the town board to move forward.
The 30 page, five-year plan, developed by the Deer Management Working group and available on the town’s website (www.town.east-hampton.ny.us) calls for an aggressive culling of deer followed by a discovery of other means of population control.
It also calls for a town-conducted aerial survey of the deer population, looking at ways to open up lands owned by the town, county and state to bow hunting and allowing non-residents to hunt during the January firearms season.
For resident JoAnne Goldberg, the proposal makes sense.
“My thoughts on this is chemical sterilization is a consideration but it is not an immediate solution,” said Goldberg. “The only immediate solution is culling the herd.”
However, hunter and arborist Donald Lahman said he does not believe the deer population has grown, as speculated, but instead said he believes it has actually decreased. The visibility of the deer, he added, is greater, simply because they have fewer and fewer places to go and development continues throughout the town.
With the re-introduction of the wild turkey, Lahman said deer have a new competitor for food, including seed that would normally grow into understory, but is now being consumed.
“New growth is being diminished at a rapid rate,” said Lahman.
“I don’t have any solutions, but the situation I see is a lose-lose situation for the white tail deer,” said Lahman.
Zachary Cohen, representing the town’s Nature Preserve Committee, said that group supported the draft proposal, except for one aspect. Cohen said the committee does not want non-residents to have the right to hunt during the January firearms season, unless they are registered guests of a resident, similar to current regulations during bow hunting season.
Steve Griffiths, with the East Hampton Sportsman Alliance, said the group supported the plan, and if a professional cull is implemented he would like to see the venison donated to food pantries.
The East Hampton Business Alliance also showed their support for the draft plan.
Ellen Crain — a member of the East Hampton Group for Wildlife — disagreed sharply with the plan, calling it “unethical.”
Crain said deer cannot be blamed for the spread of Lyme disease, and that car accidents — attributed to deer in the draft management plan — are often caused by speeding cars, not the deer.
According to the plan, the most recent data from 2009 calculates that over 440 deer were killed on town roadways during that year, those that escaped immediate death, but succumbed to injuries in the woods after an accident, were not counted in the statistic.
Bob Silverstone, another member of the East Hampton Group for Wildlife also disagreed with the plan.
“It used the word ‘compassionate’ several times,” he said. “And yet it proposed opening additional lands to bow hunting. It is well documented that 50 percent of deer hit by arrows are wounded and left to die a slow and painful death.”
Silverstone said non-lethal methods of population control, like using deer contraception programs, could work as well. The first step, he added, is understanding the size of the deer population.
Kathy Cunningham, with the Village Preservation Society agreed.
“The deer management program must include a sterilization program,” said Cunningham, noting the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) mandates contraception is only permitted in conjunction with culling. Local veterinarians, said Cunningham, could work with not-for-profit entities like White Buffalo, Inc., to help rein in the costs of a contraception program.
Cunningham asked the board, with the understanding that she has private backers interested in supporting this kind of project, if a pilot sterilization program could become a part of the deer management plan.
Bridgehampton resident Wendy Chamberlain, who has worked as a registered wildlife rehabilitator for over a decade said the first step should be an accurate count of deer in East Hampton.
“You have to think of a long term plan that involves all the townships,” she said. “Otherwise you are just kicking the can down the road.”
Chamberlain supported looking into a contraception plan.
Jeremy Samuelson, the executive director of Concerned Citizens of Montauk, also advocated for a deer count, but also for comprehensive science behind the management plan before the town moves forward, including true financial figures detailing the cost of both lethal and non-lethal methods of deer population control.
He also called for the town to hire a part time or full time person to lead this effort moving forward.
“This is a lot of work and it is work that needs to be done, but if we’re going to do it we need to do it right and we need to come up with a line item,” said Samuelson.
The board agreed to keep the public hearing on the proposal open another 30 days.