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USDA responds to deer cull protesters who say they found unborn fawns in dumpsters

SoutholdLOCAL photo by Peter Blasl

Hunters who have banded together to protest the East End deer cull are crying foul after they said pregnant doe and unborn fawns have been found tossed into dumpsters.

Mike Tessitore, founder of the Hunters for Deer group, posted photos on Facebook over the past few days that depicted unborn deer he said he’d found in a dumpster where members of the United States Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services division had allegedly thrown them after they’d been shot.

“One of the stark realities in nuisance hunting or any hunting, during the months of December to June, is the killing of fetuses inside a pregnant doe,” Tessitore said. “What I feel is more important to stress, is at what point in the animal’s pregnancy, do we back off on the hunting pressure, and allow the species to give birth to its young? Recently, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation had allowed the USDA and White Buffalo to receive permits and tags to continue to kill the white-tailed deer after the hunting season.These animals are now being pursued year round and will result in the demise of the species.”

Tessitore said he had photos and video of unborn deer that had been tossed in dumpsters, even though the agreement between the USDA and the Long Island Farm Bureau states, in the section marked “processing” that “all deer should be prepared for consumption or buried.”

The USDA responded to the allegations: “After field dressing, the offal, or innards, will be incinerated but may briefly be held in a dumpster,” said Carol Bannerman, public affairs specialist for the USDA.

But, she added,  “Deer taken during the East End project are not disposed of in dumpsters, nor are pelts or carcasses. The deer are field-dressed for transport to the processing facility. At this time, two deliveries of venison, totaling more than 2,000, have been made to Long Island food charities.”

Pregnant deer can hardly be avoided by sharpshooters, Bannerman said. “Between November and April, almost all does are pregnant, including those taken during the regular hunting seasons.”

For months, the sharpshooter program has sparked fierce controversy, with many Southold residents supporting the initiative, stating that their quality of life had been ravaged by tick-born diseases and car accidents caused by the number of deer on the road. In addition, at three public forums held in Southold to discuss the deer issue, experts detailed the damage to the natural environment caused by the overpopulation of deer.

A lawsuit handcuffed the DEC from issuing further deer damage permits, which are necessary before the sharpshooters can commence; the judge is expected to hear arguments on the request for the injunction in Albany on Friday.

But the temporary restraining order did not affect those deer damage permits that had already been issued.

Initially, DEC spokesperson Aphrodite Montalvo said the DEC could not comment on pending litigation but said the agency so far had granted 12 deer damage permits for the East End deer cull, with six pending. While she would not divulge specific locations, Montalvo said the sites were located in Riverhead, Southold, and Southampton towns; those permits granted were allowed to proceed.

Later, Montalvo said, in fact, 15 deer damage permits had been issued. Montalvo said the last permits were issued on February 28, prior to the issuance of the temporary restraining order on March 6. “No permits have been issued since then,” she said.

The number of tags associated with each permit varies according to property being assessed, she added. “Tags per property vary any where from 10 tags to 100,” Montalvo said.

Bannerman said the East End deer cull has been scheduled to end in mid-April. “The start was set to follow the end of the hunting season and the end to occur before the does begin to drop fawns,” she said.