By Kathryn G. Menu
Two not-for-profit wildlife organizations and a group of individuals have banded together and filed a lawsuit seeking to prevent a regional plan to cull deer with federal sharpshooters beginning this winter.
The Montauk-based East Hampton Group for the Wildlife and the Evelyn Alexander Wildlife Rescue Center of the Hamptons in Hampton Bays, along with 15 residents, filed suit in Supreme Court Thursday against East Hampton Town, East Hampton Village and the East Hampton Town Trustees. In the suit, they ask for a temporary restraining order against the town’s comprehensive deer management plan, and specifically any proposal within that plan that calls for the organized culling of the whitetail deer.
While the lawsuit was served on the town last Thursday and the village on Friday, that same day, the East Hampton Village Board moved forward by passing a resolution to join the Long Island Farm Bureau’s (LIFB) proposal to bring in federal sharpshooters to cull deer herds in municipalities across the East End.
The LIFB’s plan, which it is coordinating with the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC), entails bringing United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) sharpshooters to the East End to cull the herd. The program will be funded by the LIFB through $200,000 in funding through the 2013 state budget.
The Farm Bureau has asked East End villages and towns to sign onto the program by committing $15,000 to $25,000, respectively, to have federal riflemen come to their municipalities. The cull will take place in a four or five week window beginning in February, timing Farm Bureau Executive Director Joe Gergela noted was designed to give local hunters a chance to cull the herd themselves during deer season, which runs through late January.
The goal, said Gergela in an interview earlier this month, is to cull 1,000 to 2,000 deer from across the East End. The meat from the culled deer will go to Island Harvest to feed the hungry on Long Island.
The USDA sharpshooters use suppressed rifles and depending on terrain, either trap deer with a drop net, work as a mobile team with a driver, spotter and shooter, or shoot from tree stands. The Farm Bureau will coordinate efforts with municipalities that sign onto the program to identify areas deer herds tend to populate the most.
East Hampton Village has agreed to pay $15,000 into the program and joins East Hampton and Southold town, who have both agreed to provide $25,000 in funding. Southampton Town has yet to decide on whether or not it will join the regional cull, and Sagaponack officials have said that village would wait until both towns sign on before making its own commitment. The Village of North Haven is pursuing its own organized cull.
While supporters of the plan point to the incidences of tick borne illnesses on the East End, public safety concerns connected to deer and motor vehicle accidents, as well as the financial impact on farms and on private landscaping, critics contend there has been little information provided to show the cull is truly necessary. Local hunters have also opposed the cull, arguing if New York State, and the towns and villages, opened up hunting restrictions, they could thin the deer population themselves.
“There is not enough proof that there is the kind of population that would warrant this,” said Virginia Frati, the Executive Director and Founder of the Evelyn Alexander Wildlife Rescue Center. “How can we do this without proof of that?”
“We are not convinced there is an overpopulation of deer,” she continued. “Where is the proof that an overwhelming majority of residents are even for this? Even the hunters are not in favor of this.”