By Mara Certic
A possible amendment to East Hampton Town’s hunting regulations attracted comments from hunters, hikers and environmentalists at the town board’s meeting on Thursday, December 4.
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has recently extended the bowhunting season, which currently runs from October 1 to December 31, into January. If the season were to be extended, bowhunters and shotgun hunters would be able to hunt side by side during the month of January.
In East Hampton, the town board has jurisdiction over only town-owned parkland, with all other land falling under the purview of the DEC, when it comes to hunting. The amendment to a local law being sponsored by Councilman Fred Overton would prohibit bowhunting on town-owned parkland during the month of January in an effort to prevent the overlap of bow- and shotgun-users while continuing to provide them both with the opportunity to hunt.
Last year’s plan to hire sharpshooters from the United States Department of Agriculture’s wildlife services division to cull the deer population resulted in several “No Cull” rallies organized by Bill Crain, founder of the East Hampton Group for Wildlife.
Mr. Crain spoke up at Thursday’s public hearing, to support the recommendation at hand. “We strongly support this resolution. It will help a lot in avoiding chaos between the archers and those using firearms,” he said.
The East Hampton Group for Wildlife also supports the resolution because it thinks it is one way to limit bowhunting, which Mr. Crain described as “the cruelest form of hunting because the wound rate is so high.”
A bowhunting study compiled by Friends of Animals and Their Environments (FATE) reports the wounding rate for deer at 54 percent.
“Studies indicate that for every deer killed by bowhunters at least one or more is hit and not recovered, compared to deer shot by gun where only one out of 14 shots is not recovered,” the study reads.
Mr. Crain said this was one of the few recommendations made by the Deer Management Advisory Committee that his organization supported, and suggested the board consider involving more members who would be less prone to favor lethal methods.
The advisory committee is made up of members from the East Hampton Town Departments of Land Acquisition and Management, Natural Resources, Planning and the town Nature Preserve Committee. Committee members also include people from the Suffolk County Department of Parks, New York State Department of Parks and Recreation, the Peconic Land Trust, the Nature Conservancy, the Village of East Hampton, the Long Island Farm Bureau and the East Hampton Sportsmen’s Alliance.
“This committee is stacked in favor of those using lethal methods and hunting,” Mr. Crain said. “It does not represent the full range of opinion of our community,” he added.
“I’ve contacted the board and even appeared personally to try to get the board to include someone from our group, which tries to promote respect for the deer and their wish to live,” he said.
According to Mr. Crain, he and his organization would also support the prohibition of shotgun and bowhunting on weekends.
Rick Whalen, a former town attorney and avid hiker, warned the board that if it extended hunting to include weekends in January, it could alienate the rest of the community who enjoy weekends exploring town parkland. He suggested the town restrict weekend hunting on town-owned parkland.
“If you’re going to allow weekend shotgun hunting, you’re basically going to tell most of the citizenry of the town to stay out of your parks for an entire month of the year. I don’t think you should do that,” he said.
Terry O’Riordan of the East Hampton Sportsmen’s Alliance said he and his organization’s primary concern is a townwide ecological and environmental balance, and that they support the use of “lethal, historically traditional methods” of maintaining equilibrium between plant and animal species.
He suggested the town revisit the proposal to perhaps allow shotgun hunters exclusivity in the first part of the month, and to then allow archers to join them for the second half of the month.
“Experts have confirmed the rampant damage our grossly overpopulated deer herd has done here to the woods and forests in our towns,” he said.
Robin Laton and Dell Cullum, both of East Hampton, both disagreed with Mr. O’Riordan’s comment, suggesting deer are in fact responsible for very little damage to wood and parkland.
According to Senior Environmental Analyst Andrew Gaites, the town has only just begun to monitor the situation, so it’s difficult to know the extent of the damage.
“A lot of environmentalists can see the damage,” he said, but added that no one has officially recorded such destruction until the town received a grant to begin vegetative monitoring this year.
Mr. Gaites said earlier this year, town workers put in a few fenced-in areas, inaccessible to deer. These “exclosures” will allow analysts to visibly see what impact deer have on vegetation. They have also begun doing counts and measurements of plant species, he said.
For any regulations to be in place for all of shotgun hunting season, the East Hampton Town Board would have to adopt a law in its last regular meeting of the year, on Thursday, December 18.