Desperate to find a solution to the overpopulation of deer in East Hampton Village before more damage is done to residents’ properties, and most importantly, to their health, Village Board members, hunters, farmers, wildlife advocates and government officials gathered on Monday to discuss how best to attack the problem.
A number of solutions were thrown on the table, including a long-term possibility, the Long Island Deer Project, a program with the objective of reducing the number of deer in the five easternmost towns and Brookhaven, mainly through culling.
According to officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Long Island Farm Bureau, who spoke at the meeting, the New York Wildlife Services and the State Department of Environmental Conservation Bureau of Wildlife are working with the USDA and the Farm Bureau to come up with a plan.
There was seemingly no consensus about what path to take, however. Village Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach Jr. said he is personally in favor of some degree of culling in the meantime. He added that board members will come up with some momentum as how to proceed as early as Thursday at their next regular meeting.
Some people at the meeting were not impressed with the idea of a mixed approach, culling and sterilization for example, and decried culling as an inhumane practice that supports the DEC with licensing fees.
“The number of deer has been shown to go down, yet cries of wolf still go on,” said animal activist Zelda Penzel. “It’s time to end this mindless obsession with killing deer. Surely you have better things to do with your time. Hunting and killing as a means of population control is sickening, medieval and simply does not work.”
Bill Crain, the president of the East Hampton Group for Wildlife, argued that there has been a lot of “alarmist talk” about “deer emergencies.”
“We must keep cool heads and not go out and slaughter animals … we wouldn’t cull humans,” he said to a shocked audience. “We could get the Town Board to create sanctuaries for deer outside of town.”
The mayor responded quickly: “They have a sanctuary now, it’s the Village of East Hampton,” he said.
Those against culling argued that the increase in deer is not connected with the increase in ticks and therefore Lyme disease, rather that ticks are harbored on other animals like dogs and mice and that the decrease in turkeys, ticks’ biggest predator, has allowed the tick population to flourish.
Others, including attorney Michael J. Griffith, argued that there is a clear relationship between the increase in deer and the increase in Lyme disease. Mr. Griffith said he is selling his East Hampton home to move back to Amagansett to escape the deer.
“I’ve conducted my own study—with my own two eyes,” he said. “In the area of Georgica Pond, Cove Hollow Road, and Apaquogue, there is a tremendous deer overpopulation problem.”
He said not only has his wife suffered from babesiosis, a tick-borne illness which causes flu-like symptoms and can be fatal, and had to spend $13,000 for medical treatment, they have had three deer-versus-car accidents, costing approximately $20,000 total in damage, and spent thousands of dollars for deer fencing. He said they’re getting out of East Hampton.
Russ Calemmo, a member of the East Hampton Food Pantry’s board of directors, and a member of the East Hampton Town Nature Preserve Committee/Food Pantry/Waterfowl Association, said he’s a deer advocate but he’d like to see the deer be put to good use after being hunted. He organizes a venison program, where hunters offer up their bounty to local food pantries. He said last year, the program fed 2,800 families.
Village Preservation Society of East Hampton Executive Director Kathy Cunningham said that whatever village officials do, it must be done soon.
“Our biggest concern is a quality of life issue, apart from tick-borne illnesses. People are erecting fences to protect their property, and it’s their right, but it’s changing the character of the village—it’s like you’re in a fortress,” she said. The Village Preservation Society supports a sterilization program, she said, because it is doing something rather than nothing. “It’s expensive but it is a more humane way of dealing with deer.”
USDA Assistant State Director Allen Gosser said that the proposed Deer Project, while a culling program, would work with municipalities to create a specific plan.
“As we go along, sterilization can be implemented or we can stop culling for one year,” he said. “This usually requires a long-term approach. This is going to be at least three years of good culling.”
In the proposal, which would cost approximately $15,000 for East Hampton Village and $25,000 for East Hampton Town to participate in, sharpshooting would take place on 40 nights in targeted areas.
Mayor Rickenbach said while he favors culling, whatever decision the board makes will not be popular with residents.
“The board of trustees is trying to make the right decision, which will not please everyone,” he said. “We may not please all the people but we have to move ahead. This is a dilemma, an epidemic.”