By Kathryn G. Menu
The East Hampton Town Board adopted a comprehensive deer management plan last Friday that Councilman Dominick Stanzione said this week will look at reducing the white-tailed deer population with an emphasis on a deer cull, while also exploring non-lethal methods of deer control.
The passage of the deer management plan comes just weeks after an aerial survey of the deer population showed just 877 deer in East Hampton, compared to 3,293 deer in a roadside sampling count performed on behalf of the town in 2006.
The aerial survey cost the town $13,000.
In an interview Monday, Stanzione said there were a number of factors that would have led to an inaccurate aerial survey which greatly underestimates the number of deer on the ground, including vegetation shielding the animals from the infrared technology used to count them.
“Regardless of that, we had to move forward,” said Stanzione. “This is a public health issue.”
In a press release issued Friday, Stanzione said the adoption of the deer management plan was a milestone for the town.
“East Hampton has, for the first time, a specific policy framework directly addressing this critical public health and safety issue,” he said.
“It has a clear place for evolving non-lethal methodologies and strategies, yet recognizes hunting as the essential component for effectiveness at the outset,” continues Stanzione in the release.
“The Plan loudly calls for methods to break-down institutional barriers, encourages increased use of non-lethal methods and mandates coordination among government and non-government land management agencies, it places our hunting community in a leadership position for any managed-cull that may be designed and implemented, it sets legislative priorities, and it provides for town budgetary commitments needed over the next several years for the plan to succeed,” reads Stanzione’s statement.
The policy was drafted through the efforts of the town’s department of land acquisition and management, the planning department, the natural resources department, the department of information technology and the East Hampton Deer Management Working Group, which was formed last year by Stanzione.
“In East Hampton, the uncontrolled explosion in the deer population has reached an emergency level according to the Deer Management Working Group (DMWG),” reads the document. “The DMWG proposes to address this emergency with a management plan that is comprehensive in its scope of solutions considered, effective in both short term results and long term sustainability and compassionate to all species, including people. The goal of this management plan is to restore balance and sustainability to the town’s natural environment.”
In terms of perceiving the current deer population — largely because of health impacts — an emergency situation, the proposal suggests the immediate implementation of a five-year deer management plan with a goal to expand that into a long-term plan.
After Friday’s meeting, the five-year deer management plan will go into effect in 2014.
The deer management plan recommends looking for a reliable baseline survey for the current deer herd, and increasing hunting across a broader range of public and private lands. It also calls for the exploration into the possible need for the use of coordinated emergency deer culling.
The establishment of a formal Deer Management Advisory Committee is also recommended as is the hiring of a deer management coordinator. The working group also recommends research and support into nonlethal deer management methodologies once the current herd has been stabilized.
Given the significant amount of preserved lands, parks, nature preserves and open space owned by a combination of federal, state, county and local governments, as well as not-for-profit entities, the proposal notes a coordinated effort is necessary, not only locally, but across the five East End towns. The proposal notes looking into funding support through grants, fence fees and cost sharing.
On Monday, Stanzione lauded the town board’s decision, particularly in light of the failed aerial deer count.
“The number of deer collisions is up significantly, the number of people reporting tick borne illnesses is up, and we can’t wait any longer,” he said. “We know from anecdotal evidence that we have a very serious public health issue on our hands.”
The deer management working group, he noted, included government officials like New York State Senator Ken LaValle, Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, and Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman, among not-for-profit land management and conservation groups, town officials and animal rights advocates.
Having that core come together, said Stanzione, will help comprehensive deer management come to fruition as the town looks to establish a coordinated effort to contend with the rising deer population.
Stanzione said the town would look specifically at the expansion of the deer-hunting season and deer nuisance permits for town owned lands, as well as funding research into non-lethal methods of reducing the growing white-tail deer population.
Right now, encouraging data collection, said Stanzione, is a critical step as the town attempts to truly grasp what the true deer population is in East Hampton so it can assess the effectiveness of a cull. Collecting data on tick borne illnesses from health care providers, accidents from town police and working in partnership with non-governmental agencies is also necessary, said Stanzione.
“These are tools we need that are not in place right now,” he said. “We must encourage the collection of this data.”
Once 2014 rolls around, Stanzione said the first steps will entail establishing a deer management coordinator, earmark money in the budget, and begin applying for grant funding. Developing an online interface for residents is also something Stanzione said he would like to see get off the ground immediately.
“It’s only really going to be successful if this scales up in a larger way,” he said. “We need the NGOs, the county the state and our partnering towns to work with us on this.”
“This deer emergency is an emerging reality,” said Stanzione. “It has come upon us in the last decade and no one really knows how we can deal with this head-on. This plan sets out a goal of getting everyone together in a comprehensive manner, collecting and managing data and addressing this situation.”