The East Hampton Airport deer fence is an excellent example of a government-funded project that maximizes cost and minimizes results. This didn’t happen by chance, or by a contractor screw-up—it was actually designed that way and approved by town and federal government agencies.
Not unlike the Depression era, government-funded mosquito control project that tried to eliminate mosquito breeding habitat without the input of a biologist familiar with the breeding habits of mosquitoes, there appears to have been no input from a deer biologist in the design of the airport deer fence.
Someone familiar with the biology of mosquitoes would have pointed out that a grid of ditches spaced 100 feet apart and designed to drain the upper salt marsh at low tide would not significantly impact the mosquito population. Mosquitoes lay their eggs on the surface of the marsh’s wet peat, and the larvae needs only a small, shallow, saucer-shaped, water-filled depression for a week in order to metamorphose into its annoying, adult winged form.
The massive WPA undertaking put a lot of people to work, and that was important. But, as we eventually learned, it would not eliminate mosquitoes.
In the case of the town airport deer fence, constructed under a Democratic administration in 1994, it cost a lot of money and put some people to work, but I don’t recall that being a consideration at the time. That it doesn’t work is no big surprise, and one does not have to be a deer biologist to see the flaws.
Anyone who has tried to fence deer out of his or her yard or garden knows that they can slip through and under the narrowest spaces. There is a golden rule that must be followed for successful deer exclusion projects: No holes in the fence. Hell, you can drive right through the airport deer fence!
That’s right—the airport deer fence ends in seven different places to allow motor vehicles to pass through the barrier. And guess what? The deer can pass through as well.
Most people who want to deer-proof their entire property AND drive their car through the fence and onto their property have erected a deer-proof gate of some sort. That might be a simple hinged gate or a modified cattle guard. Both are somewhat awkward for a variety of reasons, so most people fence only the area of their property that they really need to keep the deer out of.
In my situation, it’s my vegetable garden. In the airport’s situation, it’s the runways—or it should be. There really is no need to try to keep the deer out of the entire 600-acre airport property, much of which is forested and quite unsuitable for aircraft.
But for some strange reason, most of the current deer fence was constructed along the wooded property line of the airport. There are several problems with that design: It requires excessive fencing material and therefore increased cost; it is largely out of sight and therefore difficult and time-consuming to monitor and repair; its location in the forest makes it more susceptible to damage from tree fall; and its construction required clearing a 10-foot-wide swath through the forest, an additional cost and unnecessary fragmentation of forest habitat.
Many years ago, while working in Banff National Park on a project designed to keep elk off the Trans-Canada Highway, I learned that keeping wildlife off roads and runways and out of harm’s way—both theirs and ours—is challenging and expensive. But it can be done.
Hopefully, our new $450,000 airport deer fence will be done correctly. Keeping it all on the airport side of Daniel’s Hole Road, where the runways are, would be a good start. That would eliminate some of the biggest holes in the current fence.