Fall marks the beginning of hunting and trapping seasons here on Long Island. And as is the case in many industries and fields—residential and commercial development, transportation, banking and finance, to name a few—the unregulated harvest of wildlife just did not work.
In his book “Wildlife in America,” author and Sagaponack resident Peter Matthiessen documents the destruction of our local fauna, often prompted by economics and driven by fashion and style, and at times, simply the result of sport, in astonishing detail. Our largest rodent, for example, the relatively prolific and adaptable beaver, was extirpated from most of North American east of the Mississippi by the mid-1800s.
Populations of most furbearers and many bird species in eastern North America followed suit. The latters’ demise, as with the beaver, was precipitated by the hat industry, although in their case it was feather adornments for women’s headgear.
Beginning in the 1880s, the state appointed officers to enforce game laws. This function expanded and evolved over time, and today the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is responsible for managing and conserving the wildlife resources found here.
To best facilitate its mandate, the DEC has divided the state into 92 wildlife management units (WMUs), although for some species these are further subdivided. Long Island is part of WMU No. 2 (the five counties comprising New York City) and all of WMU No. 1 (Nassau is No. 1A and Suffolk is No. 1C). This classification system is designed to enable the DEC to set hunting and trapping seasons, and bag limits, to best suit the wildlife resources (species, population sizes) of that particular geographical region.
For example, the white-tailed deer season in WMU No. 1C (Suffolk County) is the longest season in the state (bow hunting runs from October 1 until December 31 and shotgun hunting on weekdays goes from January 9 to January 31), reflecting this area’s large and still growing deer population. Canada goose hunting dates and bag limits have been set to reflect both the large and growing resident goose population on Long Island and the arrival of migratory individuals from Newfoundland, Labrador and other areas of eastern Canada, whose numbers are dwindling.
Recent changes in the hunting regulations for Long Island include the creation of a season for the wild turkey, a reflection of the successful reintroduction of that species to this area.
Several prominent Long Island wildlife biologists and naturalists have joined me in an effort to make additional changes to the hunting and trapping regulations. Our position is that trapping seasons with no bag limits for the grey fox, striped skunk, mink and weasel cannot be justified here on Long Island.
And they certainly do not reflect their respective populations here. In fact, until quite recently, most wildlife biologists considered the grey fox extirpated from the island.
According to DEC’s website: “The 14 species of furbearing animals in New York are abundant and their populations are secure. DEC regulates trapping seasons to ensure the continued security of New York’s furbearer populations.”
That may be true for the state as a whole, but not for the Long Island region. Why that is the case remains a mystery. Some have speculated that DEC’s Albany-based wildlife managers have written-off this region as being too developed and fragmented to warrant careful management.
If true, that would be very unfortunate and short-sighted. Long Island is a unique biogeographical region in New York State (and the largest island among the lower 48 states), with some unique challenges in terms of protecting and restoring its wildlife resources. But it also presents some unique opportunities; combined with Manhattan, this region boasts the largest concentration of nesting peregrine falcons in the world, and has an amazingly diverse flora and fauna. It deserves better treatment.