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Hundreds of Protestors Gather at “No Cull” Rally in East Hampton to Protest Government Plan to Kill Deer

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Protest organizers concert promoter Ron Delsener and East Hampton Group for Wildlife founder Bill Crain at the "No Cull" rally in East Hampton Village Saturday, January 17. (Michael Heller photo).

Protest organizers, concert promoter Ron Delsener and East Hampton Group for Wildlife founder Bill Crain, adress the crowd at the “No Cull” rally in East Hampton Village Saturday, January 17. (Michael Heller photo).

By Tessa Raebeck

Some three hundred people gathered in East Hampton Saturday in opposition to the village’s plan to bring federal sharpshooters in to cull the deer herd. Hunters and wildlife activists joined together at the “No Cull” rally, organized by the East Hampton Group for Wildlife and supported by hunting organizations like Hunters for Deer and Long Island Archers.

Chanting “What do we want? Stop the cull? When do we want it? Now!” demonstrators, some who had driven hours to reach the village, marched from the Hook Mill in East Hampton to Herrick Park.

East Hampton Village and Southold Town have agreed to a Long Island Farm Bureau (LIFB) program that would bring USDA sharpshooters to the East End to cull the deer herd, which many local residents and farmers say is overpopulated and destructive. LIFB executive director Joe Gergela estimates 1,500 to 2,000 deer would be killed during the 40-day cull.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has not yet issued a permit for the cull (see sidebar).

Proponents of the plan say the deer population, with no natural predators, has outgrown the available food supply and natural environment on the East End. Deer, they say, create hazardous conditions on roads, carry tick-borne illnesses like Lyme disease and negatively impact the local agriculture industry.

East Hampton Town agreed to the program in December under the last administration, but new town supervisor Larry Cantwell said last week he is unsure whether the town will still take part.

The program is funded by a $200,000 state grant LIFB received for deer management and would be one of the largest removals of deer ever undertaken by the government.

The hundreds who gathered Saturday are calling on the LIFB to stop the cull and for all municipalities to withdraw their support. East Hampton Village has committed $15,000 to the farm bureau and Southold Town has pledged $25,000. Those funds support sharpshooters coming into public lands, but the cull can continue on private land without official support from local governments.

In December, The Group for Wildlife, along with 13 individual plaintiffs and the Evelyn Alexander Wildlife Rescue Center in Hampton Bays, filed suit against East Hampton town, village and the town trustees.

“We’re going to sue each and every town or village that even thinks about entering into this plan,” Wendy Chamberlain, a Bridgehampton resident who helped organize the rally, told the crowd Saturday.

“It gets better,” she added, “We’re also going to sue the heinous USDA!”

Despite the uncommon collaboration of hunters and animal rights advocates, the rally was peaceful aside from one disruption, when concert promoter Ron Delsener shouted at East Hampton school board member Patricia Hope.

Hope was passing out flyers supporting immuno-contraception as a more peaceful way to cull the herd than the “wholesale slaughter of does and fawns” when Delsener, who has a house in East Hampton and is funding the anti-cull lawsuit, yelled, “This lady wants to kill the deer!”

“I don’t want to kill the deer,” Hope replied, moving away from Delsener.

Group for Wildlife founder and Montauk resident Bill Crain encouraged the crowd to write letters and call their government officials to “let them know we will not stand for this.”

“They don’t have a chance of re-election if they are going to pursue this barbaric, murderous slaughter,” Crain said.

Many protestors dressed in hunting gear and held signs with slogans like, “Cull the board not the herd,” “Slaughter, savagery, stupidity,” and “Deer epidemic NOT proven.”

One sign said, “Are the swans next?” referring to the Department of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC) new proposal to kill or capture all mute swans by 2025. Another had a photo of fawns and the words, “Are you going to kill my mommy?”

“They don’t deserve to die,” Sag Harbor’s Anne Plucis shouted to passing drivers, “They’re not the reason for this.”

Plucis said mice and rats are to blame for the prevalence of tick-borne illnesses, not deer.

Mike Tessitore, a former Sag Harbor Village policeman who is a member of Hunters for Deer, called the proposed plan “a slap in the face to the community, as well as the hunters on Long Island and in New York State.”

“If hunters were given the same opportunity as USDA in killing deer they would be successful,” said Tessitore.

The LIFB has said all meat would go to Long Island Harvest to be processed and sent to food banks, but with a cost of $50 to $80 to process each corpse, many of the cull’s opponents are skeptical the meat will be properly used.

Tessitore called the plan “$250,000 to $500,000 to throw deer in dumpsters.”

“Hunters,” he added, “actually use the meat to provide for their family and friends – and we do it for free.”

Local residents remain divided on whether or not the federal sharpshooters should be welcomed. Usually allied, many farmers and hunters are on different sides. Some wildlife advocates favor culling the herd, saying deer overpopulation negatively affects the habitats of other animals and that being shot is more humane than starving to death.

Those wildlife activists opposed to the cull, however, were in clear view Saturday.

Calling the plan “cruel and inhumane,” ARF co-founder Sony Schotland said immunization worked to control the population in several other areas. East Hampton resident Brooke Spencer circulated a petition against the cull through the crowd.

“I’m here,” East Hampton resident Elizabeth Mensch said, “because I just think this whole situation is extremely unethical and inhumane. I believe they have every right to be here and we have no right to say if something dies or lives.”

K.K. Shapiro, Mensch’s longtime friend and former classmate in East Hampton, added, “If you really have a problem with wildlife, move to the city.”

Oh Deer! East End Wildlife Groups Plan “No Cull” Rally for Saturday

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deer

By Tessa Raebeck

Plans to unleash federal sharpshooters on the East End deer population have been met with bureaucratic setbacks and vocal opposition, but are moving forward nonetheless.

In coordination with the State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), the Long Island Farm Bureau (LIFB) plans to hire USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) sharpshooters to kill deer with high-powered rifles to cull the local herds.

In addition to carrying tick-borne illnesses, causing car accidents and adversely affecting other animal habitats, deer destroy an estimated $3 to $5 million worth of crops annually on the East End, according to Joe Gergela, LIFB executive director.

Gergela said the cull, which will be largely funded by a $200,000 state grant, aims to kill 1,500 to 2,000 deer. All processed meat will go to Island Harvest to feed the hungry on Long Island.

“We felt whatever we did with the grant should be for community as well as farming benefit,” Gergela said Wednesday, adding a cull is crucial to having a successful agricultural industry.

LIFB has asked that villages and towns who want the sharpshooters sign onto the program by committing $15,000 or $25,000, respectively.

The DEC has yet to reveal whether it will require a single permit for the program or make each municipality signing onto the program file individually. Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. said Tuesday although many municipalities have expressed interest in joining the program, they don’t want the legal liability of having the permit in their name.

So far, East Hampton Village, Southold Town and the eastern part of Brookhaven Town have signed on.

North Haven Village opted out, but is pursuing its own organized cull.

Sagaponack Village’s participation is contingent on the participation of both East Hampton and Southampton towns.

Southampton Town has thus far stayed mute on the subject — which has been under public discussion since September. Calls to Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst were not returned as of press time.

The East Hampton Town Board, under the previous administration, adopted a deer management plan that included plans for a cull. On Tuesday, however, newly elected Supervisor Larry Cantwell said he was unsure if the town would, in fact, join the LIFB in this initiative.

“At the moment, it’s up in the air,” Cantwell said, adding he would like to see culling on a limited basis and there are advantages to participating, but the town’s decision will be based primarily on the opinions of its residents.

“To some extent,” said Cantwell, “this is happening fairly quickly in terms of building a community consensus moving forward.”

The East Hampton Group for the Wildlife, the Evelyn Alexander Wildlife Rescue Center of the Hamptons and 13 individuals have filed suit against East Hampton Town, East Hampton Village and the East Hampton Town Trustees.

The lawsuit asks for a temporary restraining order against the town’s deer management plan and specifically, any proposal that calls for an organized cull.

“The lawsuit,” Cantwell said, “is certainly a factor in the decision-making process about this.”

Critics contend little information has been provided to show the cull is truly necessary.

“Killing other beings as a way of solving the problem is abhorrent, unethical and monstrous to me,” said East Hampton Group for the Wildlife President Bill Crain. “These are living beings with families and social lives and emotions, so to kill them just seems like a moral outrage.”

“It’s not about animal cruelty and all the nonsense that the Bambi lovers are spouting,” Gergela said. “If they would sit down and listen to people, they would realize there are no practical solutions other than to hunt or to cull.”

A petition on change.org to stop the “stealth plan to brutally slaughter 5,000 East End deer” had garnered over 10,600 signatures as of press time. In addition to local residents, activists from as far away as Belgium have signed the petition, which calls for the “unethical, ‘quick-fix,’ non-science-based plan” to “immediately cease and desist.”

A rally in protest of the cull will be held Saturday, starting at 1 p.m. at the Hook Mill in East Hampton.

Gergela dismissed the opposition as a “vocal minority” of non-locals with “no vested interest other than they enjoy animals and they enjoy their peaceful weekend on Long Island.”

“That’s very nice,” he added, “but for those of us that live here, whether you’re a farmer or a general citizen that’s had an accident, that has Lyme Disease or whatever, everybody says to me, ‘You’re doing a great thing.’”

Local hunters have also expressed their opposition to the cull, arguing if state and local governments lessened hunting restrictions, they themselves could thin the deer population.

Terry Crowley, a lifelong Sagaponack resident whose family has been hunting on the East End for generations, called the cull “a little ridiculous.”

“They should just change a few laws so more deer can be killed,” Crowley said Tuesday.

Thiele is working on legislation that would implement the state deer management plan, which has a number of recommendations to increase hunting opportunities, including expanding the January season to include weekends and allow bow and arrow hunting.

Cantwell voiced his support of such legislation.

“I certainly want to work with the local hunters who want to take deer,” the supervisor said Tuesday, “because I do think that removing some deer from the population on an ongoing basis is necessary to control the population.”

Going Hungry for the Deer

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On Monday, in blistering cold, protesters stood out in front of town hall in East Hampton with signs announcing that they are not eating for three days and were asking the town board to reverse a decision to expand the areas for deer hunting within the town.

Members of the East Hampton Group for Wildlife (EHGW), who organized the protest, held the hunger strike on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

Protestors propped up signs on easels and strung posters around their necks reading, “Stop the Killing” and “Hunger Strike for Wildlife.”

They have abstained from eating food, and have been drinking just water since 7 p.m. on Sunday. The fast will end today, Thursday morning.

“The town board has a poor record with respect to wildlife,” president of the EHGW Bill Crain said on Monday.

“Because the defenseless animals cannot speak on their behalf, it’s up to people to call attention to their plight,” he continued. He also said that he believes the bulk of hunters do not hunt because they need food, but as sport.

The protest on Monday had about 10 participants, and shortly after the group convened in front of town hall, local hunters came and offered their own — contrary — opinions.

“I enjoy eating what I shoot and I enjoy being out in the woods,” said 72-year-old Springs resident and local hunter Hugh Miles.

“Nothing goes to waste when I kill a deer, I eat the meat and my children eat the meat,” the hunter and father of three girls said on Monday.

That day marked the beginning of the special shotgun season for deer hunting in East Hampton, the season goes until January 30. During this time, hunters are allowed to shoot in the approved areas using shotguns during weekdays.

The EHGW is a non-profit organization that explores alternative solutions to human-wildlife conflicts.

Last January, the town agreed to install reflectors along Stephen Hands Path in East Hampton. According to Crain, the reflectors have reduced the number of deer hit along that road. The idea was created by EHGW members, and funded solely by the organization. The group would like to see more reflectors put up and see the town possibly engage in a contraception program for deer to reduce the population.

 “It has been proven by the State of New York and Pennsylvania that the reflectors don’t work,” countered Miles, “so why waste the money?”

Crain maintains they work.

The total expanded town hunting areas total some 62 acres in Wainscott, East Hampton and Springs. The majority of the expanded shotgun hunting area is in Wainscott.

Crain said his intention is to get the town to reduce the area.

“I personally wish we would get rid of all hunting,” said Crain, “But we are asking the board to reverse the decision.”

“That would be a good step,” he said.

East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill McGintee said he does not have any plans to reverse the decision to expand the hunting area which was made in August.

“We review the hunting areas every two years and I don’t think there has been a big increase in the amount of hunters,” the supervisor said. “The expansion of land doesn’t encourage more hunting.”

Further, McGintee said that there should be a fair sharing of open space.

“There are those people that hike and those that mountain bike and those people that hunt. Everyone has a different reason for utilizing the trails and no group should be excluded,” he said.

If the hunger strike proves unsuccessful, Crain said he will be planning a different way to raise awareness. On Wednesday Crain delivered a letter to the supervisor asking for four specific goals including the examination of contraception and roadside reflectors as well as asking the town to set a goal of eliminating the hunting of all wildlife on 50 percent of town nature preserves and to reverse the decision made on August 5 that expanded the hunting areas.

McGintee said that he respects Bill Crain and his wife Ellen and adds they are “sincere in what they do.” But, he said, “They are under the assumption that by expanding the area it will increase the number of hunters and that doesn’t prove true.”

Crain said he wishes the community could learn to “live in harmony with the deer and all wildlife.”

“Our group is not disapproved to the expansion of hunting, but there is already too much hunting going on. This puts pets, hikers and residents in danger,” he said, and believes this is “practically shooting in the suburbs.”

 

 

Hunger Strike for Wildlife

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