Plans by the villages of Sagaponack and East Hampton to allow specially trained teams of sharpshooters to kill thousands of deer within their borders drew sharp criticism from residents this week.
A petition opposing the slaughter, which is due to take place in February and March 2014, had garnered more than 4,000 signatures as of this week, both locally and from a wider online community, according the Bridgehampton woman who has circulated it. Additionally, the Sagaponack Village Board heard complaints from wildlife advocates and hunters alike on Monday night.
“I feel very sad about this deer management plan—it hurts me personally,” said Virginia Frati, executive director of the Evelyn Alexander Wildlife Rescue Center in Hampton Bays. “The perceived problems with deer conflicts are … caused by human overpopulation on the East End, which is destroying precious habitat for wildlife. By destroying the wild creatures who make the East End their home because they get in the way not only speaks of incredible violence, it is something I think you will deeply regret in later years as you see the Village of Sagaponack become like our neighbors to the west, the towns of Brookhaven and Islip.”
Others accused the village of trying to sneak the plans past their residents with minimal discussion before approving a payment of $15,000 to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which will oversee the “culling” of the deer.
“It is so backward, so incredibly primitive,” said Wendy Chamberlain, a Bridgehampton resident who was among the first to raise objections to the plans and began the petition opposing it. “Very few people know about this plan, and when they find out they are pissed. I haven’t met a person from Sagaponack who isn’t really sick when they find out. This is primitive and ignorant. We have to do something different, more scientific and forward-thinking and moral.”
Ms. Chamberlain has pushed for the villages and the Long Island Farm Bureau, which has said the robust deer population on the East End costs farmers millions a year in lost crops, to turn to new techniques of reducing deer breeding with contraceptives. She said the new methods are more effective than older ones.
The USDA has been conducting controlled kills of deer for many years and has a division dedicated to the practice. The program to be employed in Sagaponack and East Hampton uses three-man teams of hunters armed with high-powered rifles and night-vision equipment. The teams will use bait to lure and kill deer in local fields and even backyards from a variety of vantage points, the back of vehicles, elevated stands, even horseback. The federal agency has said the sharpshooters’ accuracy and deadliness is the most humane way of killing the deer quickly and without suffering.
But opponents said the principle of the practice alone should be enough to set it aside.
“What example is this setting for our children?” asked Jill Rappaport, a Water Mill resident and NBC “Today” show correspondent. “This is an area that gets such media attention. We will be an example of barbaric treatment of animals across the country.”
Objections to the plans came from another, perhaps ironic, angle too—Joe Carson, a Hampton Bays resident who described himself as an avid deer hunter who largely lives off the meat of the deer he kills himself. He said that the village would be better served by allowing, even encouraging, local hunters to take more deer through traditional bow-and-arrow hunting.
“You could ask the DEC to extend the season, [allow] the use of bait—those things are very effective,” Mr. Carson said. “They say they’re only going to kill does. But in February and March, the bucks have dropped their antlers, and it’s very hard to tell the difference. Also, does will have developed fetuses in their abdomens and, you know, even as hunters, there have to be limits.”
A local hunters’ group has started a new website, www.huntersfordeer.org, also garnering signatures from local sportsmen opposing the proposal to remove deer from the wild population.