Southampton Town Deer Management Plan Would Focus Reductions, Promote Public Education

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Southampton Town officials and representatives of deer preservation and hunting groups presented the Town Board with a draft deer management plan last week.

The long-awaited plan, unveiled at a work session on Thursday, November 6, includes recommendations for reducing deer herds, protecting motorists and private property from deer, researching ecological impacts of deer populations, and educating residents about deer-related issues. It also recommends as a first step that the town create a deer management advisory committee—which would include representatives of interested parties on both sides of the issue, like hunters, farmers and wildlife preservation advocates—to help craft specific policy recommendations and identify potential tools for addressing deer population concerns.

“One of the things we hoped for this is that it would be a regional template,” Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said. “We know that deer do not recognize town lines, and we recognized common goals and need tangible results, which is part of the work we’ve done here. The mapping we’ve done, we’re happy to make available to our neighbors … hoping they will be willing to do something similar to this.”

In drafting the plan, the town’s Environmental Division worked with the Longview Wildlife Partnership, a citizens group of deer preservation advocates and deer hunters that formed in the wake of opposition to last year’s USDA deer cull. That effort employed federally licensed sharpshooters with silenced rifles to kill deer at night on several South Fork properties. The group’s founders, Wendy Chamberlain and Michael Tessitore, joined two town officials, Chief Environmental Planner Marty Shea and Planning and Development Administrator Kyle Collins, in presenting the plan last week.

“We need to have a more proactive response,” Mr. Shea told Town Board members on Thursday. “One of the major thrusts of our effort is to better educate the public, both to bring better science to the public and to … focus on the impacts to public safety, property and the effects on agricultural lands. One of the things we all recognized is that the public out there don’t know a lot about deer.”

Mr. Shea pointed out that the deer population on the East End, despite its seeming explosion, has not reached a crisis level in terms of the animals’ health, as some have claimed. Individual deer are healthy and not suffering due to lack of food or the onset of any disease that typically accompanies an overpopulation of deer, Mr. Shea said. He also noted that some local efforts to put hard numbers on deer populations have been inaccurate and largely pointless.

The plan recommends dividing the town into deer management units, categorized by its development characteristics and how the area lends itself to deer management. In less developed areas with broad expanses of open space, encouraging hunting would be seen as an appropriate management tool. In denser hamlet areas, other approaches would more likely have to be explored.

In areas deemed appropriate for hunting, homeowners could be encouraged to contact hunters and allow them access to their properties. He pointed to an arrangement that Mr. Tessitore’s group had reached with a group of homeowners in Remsenburg, where deer numbers have been estimated at 80 per square mile, allowing them access to private land in the hamlet for hunting.

To encourage hunting and community support, the group has also purchased a refrigerated trailer for storing deer carcasses, Mr. Tessitore said, and makes them available, free of charge, to members of the community who wish to have them butchered for meat. Deer not used are donated to food pantries.

The group and Town Clerk Sundy Schermeyer have also set up a program where hunters can get new deer tags at Town Hall, allowing them to kill an additional deer. In the past, hunters had to drive to state facilities in Ridge to get new tags.

Mr. Shea said that in areas where hunting may not be appropriate, the town is looking at pilot programs exploring contraception methods and new signs to make motorists better aware of areas where deer are most active.

Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst and Mr. Tessitore acknowledged the extensive work Ms. Chamberlain had done in working with Town Police to identify 12 areas that account for the largest number of deer-vehicle collisions. One of the possible experiments the town will consider is deer warning signs that are linked to motion detectors in nearby woods, which will trigger the sign to flash when deer are approaching the roadway.

“The consensus is that the signage out there now is not all that effective,” Mr. Shea said. “Most people just maintain their speed and go right by the sign, rather than slowing down and looking for deer.”

The motion detector systems cost $1,200 each, and 24 would be needed for the 12 high-collision areas, one on each side of the road.

“No matter how elaborate the signage is, people will get used to it,” Ms. Chamberlain said. “But if you have some kind of motion detection, that will pique their interest.”

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