After all was said and done, a controversial deer cull only resulted in the death of 132 deer on the North Fork, according to a study released by the United States Department of Agriculture this week.
A press conference was held Wednesday on the steps of Southold Town Hall to discuss the results of the “Long Island White-Tailed Deer Damage Management Demonstration Project Report”. The report indicated that across the entire East End, a total of 192 deer were culled.
Joe Gergela, executive director of the Long Island Farm Bureau, said the deer cull came about in response to critical concerns over not only public safety due to tick-borne illnesses and car accidents, but also, the millions of dollars in economic damage to local farmers — as well as a devastating impact on the natural environment. He said, despite the results, the cull was a pilot program and proved that to address the issue, a regional approach needs to be taken.
“The numbers were disappointing for many reasons,” said Karen Rivara, president of the board of the LIFB.
The cull, Gergela said, was commenced with a $200,000 state grant, and was the first of its kind locally. Various factors, including a very cold winter, and a lawsuit that cuffed the hands of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation from issuing deer damage permits, hindered efforts, he said. That injunction is still in place, and no damage permits can be issued at a critical harvest time for farmers, Gergela said. He added that the case should be addressed after Labor Day.
“It’s was not as successful as we would have liked,” Gergela said Monday.
But, Rivara said, there is always a “learning curve with a pilot” and the cull was successful in raising awareness and also helped to feed the hungry, with over 6,000 lbs. of venison donated to Long Island Harvest.
Martin Lowery of the USDA said deer are “changing life” on Long Island and threatening the health and safety of residents, due to vehicle collisons. Hunters help, he said — and Gergela agreed the cull was meant to complement efforts by hunters — but in a suburban environment “hunting has its limitations,” Lowery said.
The cull, he added, was “safe, with no accidents” and done in a humane fashion.
“We will be coming back in the future if the community asks us to come back,” he said.
Gergela added that the cull was “one tool in the toolbox” to fight an escalating problem.
Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell, who was thanked by all present for remaining steadfast to the mission, said, when asked if the cull would take place next year, “It’s accurate to say that all options need to stay on the table. This is an environmental, ecomomic, and public health crisis. This was the first step, but we need a long-term solution.”
Russell said all options would be explored, with an eye toward fiscal responsibility to taxpayers.
Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski, who grew up on a farm during a time when there were no deer, said deer were destroying efforts to keep stormwater runoff clean and safe. He agreed that a regional approach was critical. “We’ve all got to work on this together.”
New York State Assemlyman Anthony Palumbo, a New Suffolk resident, pointed to new legislation that will relax hunting restrictions from 500 to 150 near homes. In addition, Palumbo said, New York State Assemblyman Fred Thiele, New York State Senaor Ken LaValle and he have worked to extend the hunting season to March 31 and on weekends.
“This is an epidemic,” Palumbo said. “It’s more than just Bambi eating the flowers.”
Gergela said earlier on Monday that half the $25,000 that the LIFB received from the Town of Southold for the cull would be returned. “They want to be fiscally responsible to the taxpayers of Southold.”
No final dollar amount of how much was spent on the cull is yet available, Gergela added.
Reflecting on the cull, he said, “It was like the perfect storm of problems.” While some landowners had initially complained about deer, he said, ultimately, the threat of a boycott of local businesses made some landowners hesitant to sign on.
A vocal contingent of naysayers from the South Fork, who spoke out against the cull, did not help, he said. “The nasty tactics by the vocal minorty was problematic,” he said. “Some very wealthy people have ideas about birth control of deer — instead of suing everyone, why don’t they put up their millions and set up a program to see how that works? Let them put their money where their mouths are,” Gergela said.
After the event, Bridgehampton resident Wendy Chamberlin, president of the Wildlife Preservation Coalition, said while there was a problem, there were other means to control the deer population that should be explored.