Southampton Town environmental staffers are nearing completion of a comprehensive deer management plan that the town hopes will allow it to better control deer populations in the municipality and possibly serve as a regional model for other East End towns.
Town lawmakers expect to hear a presentation on a deer management plan in the coming weeks that will explore a wide range of conditions and strategies for reducing deer herds and lessening their impact on human property and health. Town planners, with the help of Town Police databases, have been examining the areas where car-versus-deer collisions are the most common, and exploring ways to better alert motorists to the danger. The plan will also explore deer fence policies and whether the doubly high fences should be allowed in more areas where they are currently barred.
Whether deer populations have grown beyond their historical densities, or just seem that way as they’ve been corralled by development, will be explored in the study as well, in addition to what, if any, impact their numbers are having on the spreading of tick-borne diseases and on the ecological balance of their range.
Perhaps most eagerly awaited, from several corners of the community, will be recommendations for reducing deer populations. In the wake of the U.S. Department of Agriculture cull last spring, which was seen as a gory horror by opponents and as an ineffectual dud by farmers seeking to rid their property of deer, alternatives for reducing their numbers has been a hot topic of debate. East Hampton Village recently embarked on a plan to perform surgical sterilization of deer within its boundaries. Other alternatives, such as using chemical contraceptives, increased recreational hunting and expanded allowances for nuisance hunting on private property, will also be discussed in the plan, which is being prepared by members of the town’s Environmental Division, led by Chief Environmental Analyst Martin Shea.
“We recognize that we have concerns with everything from tick borne diseases to the destruction of the environment and people’s property, and the danger to motorists—we want to look at it all,” Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said. “And we’re taking a look at what our deer population looks like in the town today. Have we seen changes in the patterns to where and how they migrate, and what the scientific talk today around tick borne diseases and ecology is.”
Ms. Throne-Holst added that she does not believe the town will ever agree to participate in a targeted effort to kill large numbers of deer like the cull directed by the federal agency, on behalf of the Long Island Farm Bureau and a number of East End farmers, earlier this year.
According to a report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued this month, the federal sharpshooters killed just 60 deer on South Fork farms in Sagaponack and Water Mill, a fraction of the number the advocates for the cull had said they hoped would be taken. On the North Fork, shooters killed 132 deer. Several thousand pounds of venison were donated to local food pantries as a result of the cull, according to its proponents.
Farmers have said that the deer population, in general and on their unfenced lands, has gotten out of control and is costing them thousands in lost profits.
Animal rights activists were incensed by the cull, which employed sharpshooters using night-vision equipment and gun silencers, stating that the policy created unnecessary carnage. In a strange coalition, animal right activists and groups representing deer hunters, typically strident opponents, stood alongside one another in opposition to the cull. Hunters alleged that it wouldn’t be necessary if hunting regulations were relaxed to allow more deer to be taken by more hunters over a longer period.
Both groups, as well as farmers, have been working with town officials on the new management plan.
“Even before the cull we had met with Town Police to track deer collisions and come up with a map to see where the problem areas are,” said Wendy Chamberlin, head of a group that organized in opposition to the cull, called the Wildlife Preservation Coalition of Eastern Long Island. “When the cull came along we developed a long view management plan, everything from tick tubes and deer resistant plants to deer crossings and immunocontraception for deer in tight areas. They liked it and are incorporating some of it into their plan.”
Ms. Throne-Holst said the town’s vision in developing a wide-reaching plan is to use its resources to develop an approach that is comprehensive enough that it can be employed by neighboring municipalities.
“We hope the plan will have regional significance,” she said, “because we understand that we can come up with a plan for Southampton Town, but the deer don’t respect borders like humans do.”