At least four landowners in Sagaponack Village and Bridgehampton are still considering participating in a Long Island Farm Bureau program that would utilize federally licensed sharpshooters to kill hundreds of deer in the dark of night.
Earlier this month, both the East Hampton town and village governments, as well as the Sagaponack Village Board, all of which had been eager to participate in the cull and thin the herds of deer on the South Fork, pulled out of the plan after opponents protested the cull at numerous public meetings, and staged a rally in East Hampton decrying the cull as barbaric and unnecessary.
But private homeowners—namely, farmers who own large parcels—are still able to participate in the program. Many already have nuisance permits issued by the state that allows for the killing of deer beyond the limitations of normal state big game hunting regulations on their land, and the Farm Bureau has pledged to fund the hiring of the sharpshooters to conduct culls on the farms.
Farm Bureau leaders have not returned repeated calls seeking comment in recent weeks, but several sources have said that they are pressing ahead to conduct the cull in March and April on the North Fork, and anywhere else that farmers want to see the deer population reduced.
Opponents have already filed two lawsuits challenging the plans to participate in the cull in East Hampton, and are gearing up to block the program anywhere else in court as well. Finding the avenues to do so, however, has been difficult as the Farm Bureau and landowners who plan to participate have gone silent on the matter, some expressing regret that the issue was ever made public in the first place.
Two of the South Fork farmers who are considering allowing the sharpshooters to work on their land said this week that they have still not made up their minds about whether to participate, citing the need for relief from damage caused to their crops by deer but also a desire to not anger neighbors and customers.
“I signed up to cooperate with it, but I don’t know if it’s going to happen on my property or not yet,” said Jim Pike, who farms 55 acres of vegetables in Sagaponack. “I’m just not sure at this point whether I want to allow it. We’ve been getting a lot of grief for it. We don’t want to make enemies of everybody in our community. If it’s going to make us lose customers …”
The program arranged by the Farm Bureau would hire several shooters, working in teams of three, to kill deer over four or five weeks on the East End. The shooters, who are certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, would use piles of food to attract deer and then kill them with high-powered rifles outfitted with silencers and night-vision equipment. The USDA teams sometimes use nets to ensnare a group of deer, allowing them to be killed a close range, though it is not clear whether that strategy, a particular point of outrage among opponents, would be employed in any local effort.
Another farmer, Dean Foster, said he plans to participate in the cull if the logistics allow for it. If they do not, he said he intends to take other steps to keep deer away from his crops, including possibly erecting tall deer fences around some of his fields.
“I farm a piece of property between Long Lane and Stephen Hands Path [in East Hampton] and I can’t farm it,” Mr. Foster said. “We’ve been losing crops like crazy everywhere. The farmers have been paying for this for years.
“I never thought we would have this much trouble protecting ourselves from a pest that has taken over and has no natural predators,” he continued.
Mr. Foster said the area needs a concerted culling effort as well as drastic changes to state hunting laws to allow local hunters to take more deer going forward, a step that the opponents of the program have offered as a long-term solution.
Opponents are preparing to file a new round of legal challenges to stop the effort. Two groups, one organized by local deer hunters, another by animal rights supporters, have hired an attorney to prepare lawsuits to stop the Farm Bureau’s cull and plans in the Village of North Haven to hire a private hunting company to conduct a concerted deer cull in its woods.
Michael Tessitore, the founder of the hunters’ advocacy group Hunters for Deer, said his group and animal rights activists expect to file lawsuits against the Farm Bureau and State Department of Environmental Conservation, which would have to issue permits for the cull, to block the program, possibly as soon as later this week.
Earlier this month the Village of North Haven approved paying a company known as White Buffalo to thin its own famously problematic deer by about 100. A lawyer for opponents of the USDA cull said they are trying to find an avenue to challenge the North Haven plans also but have been stymied by the village’s refusal to release information about what they have planned.
“We’re still evaluating the case and trying to get a sense of what is going on, but the trouble is getting info from them,” said Jessica Vigors, an attorney working for a combined hunters-animal rights group calling itself the Wildlife Preservation Coalition of Eastern Long Island. “We’re in the process of trying to determine what they did or didn’t do, because our clients are very concerned that the village isn’t acting appropriately.”
The village’s mayor, Jeff Sander, has not returned numerous calls seeking comment, and village officials have refused to release any public documents regarding the planned cull—not even a copy of the resolution reportedly approved by the Village Board earlier this month to hire the company to conduct the cull using shotguns.
“It is all tentative, that is all I can say,” North Haven Village Trustee George Butts said last week. “[We made] a move to let the mayor go out and investigate this whole thing.”