Animal advocates and deer hunters celebrated this week after both East Hampton Town and Village backed out of the Long Island Farm Bureau’s deer cull program, which was slated to kill thousands of deer on the East End this spring, and Sagaponack Village quickly followed suit.
The announcement came the day after East Hampton Town was issued a temporary restraining order, barring it from completing and implementing a contract with the Long Island Farm Bureau and the U.S. Department of Agriculture for culling deer. The plan was to use USDA sharpshooters throughout East End towns to reduce the herd numbers.
The restraining order resulted from a lawsuit against the town by advocate Ron Delsener and the East Hampton Group for Wildlife.
On Friday, East Hampton Village Mayor Paul Rickenbach Jr. said that the restraining order is not what prompted the Village Board’s decision to pull out of the cull program, but that it was just “another nail in the coffin.”
The mayor announced the Village Board’s decision in a memo that day that simply stated that because of a lack of participation by other towns and villages, East Hampton Village would withdraw from the cull.
“You’ve got to have the full cooperation of all interested parties—I am saddened,” he said. “We went into this with the hope that it would provide a beneficial result, but based on recent events I think the emotional attachment to it precluded the village from acting in its right of self-determination with regard to this public health issue.”
Not long after the mayor sent out his note, Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell and Councilman Fred Overton, the town’s deer management liaison, followed suit with a press release of their own.
The officials cited four reasons why this year is a no-go, including ongoing litigation challenging the town’s deer plan as well as the Farm Bureau’s plan.
Additionally, town officials have been advised that an environmental impact statement under State Environmental Quality Review Act guidelines may be needed before any agreement can be made to go forward.
Lastly, the response from private property owners asking to participate in the Farm Bureau’s deer cull has been minimal, according to the town.
“For these reasons, it appears certain that the Town of East Hampton will not be in a position to participate in the Long Island Farm Bureau program this year,” the memo stated.
When Bill Crain, the director of the East Hampton Group for Wildlife, was informed by a Press reporter on Friday that the village had withdrawn from the program, he was near tears. “That’s tremendous news that they pulled out,” he said. “I wish I could tell all the deer. I may go out to tell them anyway.”
Mr. Crain said at the time that he suspected the town would pull out, given the restraining order and the news of the village leaving the plan. Later, in a statement, he said the advocates’ hard work, pulling together a rally and gathering petition signatures, had not been in vain.
“The decision to halt the cull, at least for now, is a significant victory for the humane treatment of wildlife,” Mr. Crain said. “In order to withdraw from the cull, several village and town officials had to change their positions. This required mature flexibility on their part, and we commend them for it.”
Wendy Chamberlin, an advocate of the Wildlife Preservation Coalition of Eastern Long Island, said the halt will be consequential for the treatment of deer, and that backing out of the plan was the common sense thing to do.
“There’s no question [that the village backed out because of the town’s temporary restraining order],” she said. “It wouldn’t make any sense to start culling deer in the village if they’re not doing the same program in the surrounding area. When they’d stop shooting, the deer would run back in to the village. [The village] was baby steps away from a TRO themselves.”
The town’s restraining order lasts until Monday, February 10, when town and village attorneys return to court to discuss the issues in further detail, according to Mr. Crain.
The town hasn’t completely shut the door on the cull program, however.
“If participation is open next year and a more complete environmental analysis is completed, the town can reconsider,” the town press release stated. “In the meantime, we recommend the town continue implementing the Town Deer Management Plan.”
Hunting as a primary method of reducing and managing the overall deer population is something the Town Board continues to support, as well as education in the meantime, the release said.
“Toward this end, the town should improve its monitoring of the deer population and related environmental damage,” they added. “It should compile data on deer vs. vehicle accidents and location of deer over time, as well as the hunting of the animals.”
According to Mr. Crain, Southold Town is the remaining party signed on to the Long Island Farm Bureau’s planned deer cull.
Southampton Town’s Department of Land Management is not in favor of a federal cull, Mary Shea, the town’s chief environmentalist, said this week, adding that while there did not seem to be a crisis where deer were concerned, he and others were working on other proactive options to recommend to the Southampton Town Board.
Sagaponack Village Mayor Don Louchheim said the planned cull is off as far as Sagaponack is concerned. “From the outset, Sagaponack said it would be willing to participate in this only if East Hampton Town and Southampton Town did,” he said. “We had heard no indication that Southampton Town was willing to go ahead with it. Sagaponack has no plans to participate in any cull that was planned for the time frame that was being discussed.”
Sagaponack Village had approved spending up to $15,000 to pay for its part in the program. Rhodi Winchell, the village’s clerk and treasurer said that money was contingent upon whether East Hampton, but especially the Town of Southampton, were to go forward with the plan. Now that East Hampton is out, and Southampton Town hasn’t made a move toward the cull, Sagaponack is not moving forward either.
“Having said that, this does not mean individual property owners can’t get a license from the DEC to allow hunting on their property,” she said. “Whether the village ponies up or not, it is still up to the property owners to get licenses.”
Joe Gergela, the executive director of the farm bureau, did not return a call for comment on East Hampton’s withdrawal.
“We’re keeping an eye on Brookhaven, Southold and Sagaponack,” Ms. Chamberlin said about the advocates’ next step. “We have legal action going against the USDA and possibly the DEC. We want to do everything right this time so we don’t find ourselves in this position next year or in five years. By instigating smart plans and bringing them down to a local level with each village and hamlet, we’re hoping to remove the need for any of these sweeping policies against wildlife. Next year, if things go well and we start doing the right things, we won’t think we need a cull.”
Staff writer Michael Wright contributed to this story.