Opposition to a deer cull proposal in two South Fork communities has made strange bedfellows out of two normally disparate groups of the East End community.
At Saturday’s protest in East Hampton, targeting the proposal to hire trained teams of sharpshooters to kill hundreds of deer in the dark of night, camouflage-clad hunters and people who have spent much of their lives in staunch opposition to any kind of hunting, particularly for deer, stood side by side—some nearly arm-in-arm—in opposition. Both have organized at levels they never have before, and both have vociferously opposed the large-scale killing, albeit for vastly different reasons.
Among the animal rights activists, some say that methods that could be used by the federal cull team, like casting nets over groups of deer and then executing them at close range, are wildly inhumane and barbaric. Others say that killing deer in general is flat wrong.
The hunters obviously disagree that killing is wrong but say that hiring outsiders to slaughter hundreds of deer in one fell swoop is unnecessary when there are plenty of local hunters willing to harvest more deer in traditional ways, if the current rules can be adjusted to allow them to do so.
The bulk of the more than 300 people who turned out for Saturday’s protest were rallied there by two groups, largely in conjunction: one a hunters group, the other an animal rights group. The juxtaposition of the two groups was not lost on their respective organizers.
“There are missionary animal rights people who have dedicated their lives to this and don’t believe you have the right to kill an animal,” said Wendy Chamberlain, who sparked the first organized opposition to the cull, a petition of now more than 10,000 signatures protesting the plan. “And then there are others, like most of the people I’ve spoken to, who realize we’re in a big jam here, and we have to get this stopped. They understand the reality of the world, and that hunting is not going away, and that, in this situation, the main thing we care about is that the hunters we’re dealing with think this cull is atrocious just like we do. We all think it is savage.”
Deer hunters, not a group that has traditionally made a habit of putting itself in the spotlight for fear of drawing criticism, have organized loosely but in large numbers to oppose the cull, and one of the groups has worked closely, if cautiously, with Ms. Chamberlain’s group.
“The enemy of my enemy is my friend—you have to be willing to work with anyone that is working to see the right thing done today, right now,” said Michael Tessitore, who started the group, Hunters for Deer, about four weeks ago specifically to oppose the cull proposal. “But we’re not foolish—we know that for the most part the animal rights people have not accepted hunters. If the cull idea goes away and they start trying to stop hunting, we’ll be enemies again.”
Mr. Tessitore and Ms. Chamberlain have worked together on a proposal to present as a more viable and less drastic alternative to the cull. They call for legislative action to expand hunting seasons, allow hunters to use bait to attract deer, and to hunt closer to residential areas where deer have taken up residence.
“We’ve devised a deer management plan as an alternative to the cull … and hunters are a key element of that,” Ms. Chamberlain said. “In the absence of natural predators here, we understand that hunting is maybe the only way to control population.”
Predictably, at Saturday’s demonstration, there were those who were left uncomfortable, in principle, standing next to the hunters they had opposed for so long, and found it hard to swallow being seen as allied with hunters, if only on a single issue.
“It has certainly led to some mixed feelings within our group,” said Bill Crain, head of the East Hampton Group For Wildlife, a citizens organization that has actively opposed deer and waterfowl hunting on town lands for many years. “We all want to stop the cull, but I, personally, and others are opposed to hunting in general. I’m opposed to the alternatives that some have proposed of allowing more hunting as a replacement for the cull. I don’t see that as the right solution.
“The cull is a greater horror, it’s a nightmare. … But hunting is only a lesser [evil].”