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Dec 7, 2012 5:26 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

East Hampton Town Residents Sound Off On Deer Plan

Dec 11, 2012 4:00 PM

When Deborah and Robert Wick’s son, Alex, was bitten by a tick nearly three years ago during a winter stay at the family’s Amagansett home, no one thought it would lead to Powassan virus, a debilitating and rare disease that consumed three months of the college student’s life.

Mr. Wick was hospitalized in January 2010 for spinal meningitis, which led to encephalitis—inflammation of the brain. When Ms. Wick said she picked him up from school in Colorado, he was in a wheelchair, couldn’t remember the password to his college safe or internet accounts, and wasn’t able to hold a glass of water without dropping it on his lap. Soon he lost the ability to speak and could hardly walk, she said, and although he has recovered from the disease today, the 25-year-old still has a speech impediment.

“It’s frightening because you don’t really know why,” said Ms. Wick, noting that her son spent time in three different hospitals as doctors sought a diagnosis. “It’s frightening because you sort of feel you’re out of control, because can’t anyone do anything for him?”

Ms. Wick was one of many people who shared her story at East Hampton Town Hall last Thursday night in support of a plan that aims to reduce the town’s deer population, largely by professional culling.

Nearly 30 people—animal activists, hunters, environmentalists and others—attended the hearing, at which the Town Board gathered input on a draft townwide deer management plan. The effort, which is being led by Councilman Dominick Stanzione, is designed to address what many feel is an unhealthy explosion in the town’s white-tailed deer population. They claim it has led to increases in car-deer accidents and spikes in cases of tick-borne illnesses. The deer population has also been blamed for overbrowsing the forest understory.

Most speakers were in favor of culling, the most aggressive and controversial proposal in the plan to reduce the size of deer herds, while a few residents said the method was an inhumane solution to a problem that they said may not be as serious as some say it is.

Some residents offered stories about their experiences fighting tick-borne illnesses, while others claimed that reducing the deer population will not rid a community of such diseases—and in fact could make the situation worse.

One speaker, JoAnn Goldberg, spoke highly of the plan and asked the Town Board, “How can we not afford to do it?” She said the town’s “only immediate solution” is culling.

“What about the emotional part?” she said. “Think what it does to our children when we’re driving around and they see a dead and mangled deer on the road? I have to pull over and comfort my grandchildren.”

But some didn’t share Ms. Goldberg’s view. Members of the East Hampton Group for Wildlife, a group that has opposed the plan in the past, spoke out against the proposal, specifically against a measure to extend bow hunting to additional town lands. It goes against being “compassionate”—a word town officials use to characterize the plan, said group member Bob Silverstone. He said he recently observed a deer with a hole in its side dying a slow, agonizing death with a pool of blood near its mouth. Bow hunting is “utterly senseless, and certainly it’s not what you call compassion,” he said.

Ellen Crain, one of the most vocal animal advocates in town and a member of the East Hampton Group for Wildlife, said the plan is “flawed and unethical.” She said that while the plan claims the deer population has reached a crisis level, there isn’t any hard evidence to support that claim. And she said that while the plan makes “passing mention” of nonlethal methods to lower the population, the lethal methods are the only ones that are “well-developed.”

“The emphasis of the plan is clearly on killing,” Ms. Crain said.

Members from groups like the East Hampton Sportsman Alliance and the East Hampton Business Alliance supported the plan. East Hampton Sportsman Alliance members said they’d like to see meat from the cull donated. New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. lauded East Hampton Town for tackling a regional issue.

“I think what you’re attempting to do with this plan tonight is certainly a leadership role that other municipalities will follow,” he said. He also stated that he and New York State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle would work with the town to move the plan along at the state level.

Culling is not the only method of deer population control proposed in the plan. The document also includes a measure to conduct an aerial survey of the deer population, which will take place sometime this winter, said Mr. Stanzione. The five-year plan also includes proposals for increased hunting opportunities, such as exploring the option of opening up co-owned town, county and state lands to additional bow hunting, and opening the January firearms season in East Hampton Town to non-residents. The plan was a product of the Deer Management Working Group, about 30 people from different governmental levels and groups.

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