Opponents of a Long Island Farm Bureau deer cull filed a lawsuit against Southold Town last week and are seeking a restraining order to prevent the town from hiring sharpshooters to kill deer at night.
On Friday, attorneys for the Wildlife Preservation Coalition of Eastern Long Island, an incongruous alliance of animal rights activists and deer hunter advocates formed specifically to oppose the cull, sued the North Fork town and Farm Bureau to prevent them from bringing in the sharpshooters, under the oversight of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The group is also eyeing legal action against any private property owners who may be pursuing a cull agreement with the USDA and Farm Bureau, and is preparing a separate suit against the federal agency itself to bar it from conducting the cull locally. Another lawsuit could target North Haven Village’s plans for a cull.
The suit claims that the Farm Bureau and Southold Town did not adhere to the State Environmental Quality Review Act when they approved moving forward with the cull.
The coalition’s founder, Wendy Chamberlin, said this week that since opposition to the cull mushroomed earlier this winter, the Farm Bureau, local governments and landowners have attempted to conceal ongoing plans, making it difficult for the group to know where to take legal action. “This is really a moving target,” she said. “You can’t get anyone to give you any information. It’s being done in complete secrecy, which isn’t legal, and it’s entirely against any code of ethics. It’s appalling.”
The USDA has said that if the local property owners and government agencies give it the go-ahead, it will contract with trained teams of sharpshooters, who will use high-powered rifles, night vision equipment and gun silencers to kill deer at night. The cull plans have been organized by the Farm Bureau, a farmers advocacy and support group, which has a $200,000 grant from New York State to help it finance deer population control efforts on behalf of farmers. The Farm Bureau will pay for the USDA sharpshooters to remove deer from any private farmland whose owner requests it.
Ms. Chamberlin said the Farm Bureau has sent letters to farmers “cajoling” them into participating in the cull even after public outrage seemed to scare some farmers away for fear of angering neighbors and losing customers.
Farm Bureau officials have not returned numerous phone calls in recent weeks seeking comment on the local plans.
The suit against Southold is the second filed in connection with the deer cull plans. Last month, East Hampton Town and East Hampton Village dropped plans for a cull after animal rights groups filed a lawsuit against the town. Several large farm owners on the South Fork are still talking with the Farm Bureau about using the USDA shooters to kill deer, which they say are causing extensive damage to their crops, on their lands.
The coalition also is attempting to stop a deer cull in North Haven Village, one arranged between the village and a private agency that offers culling services.
“They don’t answer the phone, you can’t get any official paperwork from them—they don’t even respond to [Freedom of Information Law] requests,” Ms. Chamberlin said. “It’s really bad behavior by our elected officials.”