Judging from the hundreds of protestors who are turning out to oppose a deer shoot 'em up proposed for the East End, it is time for both sides to take a step back.
The impetus for the hunt is real: the numbers of deer-related auto accidents are on the rise, deer carry disease-carrying ticks, and the deer are eating everything in sight. We get that.
Both sides are entrenched: those who oppose the cull say the deer will reproduce faster. Those who are pro-kill say contraception or sterilization alternatives are too expensive, and they simply dismiss the evidence that deer indeed will increase procreation if the herd is thinned.
From where we sit it is kind of silly for some of the richest municipalities on earth to quibble over the cost of a deer contraception study.
What is more worrisome is our local municipalities have jumped headfirst into the cull, which will be under the auspices of the United States Department of Agriculture and the result of lobbying from the head of the Long Island Farm Bureau, Joe Gergela.
Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell is one of the cull's most enthusiastic supporters. Granted, Southold is rich in farmland and the deer wreak havoc on the crops. But Russell seems to be leaping blindly into committing to the cull. For one thing, the deer cull would seem to require a full Environmental Impact Study that by state law would have to include a study of viable alternatives. We would think Russell would want an EIS before allowing the shooting to begin.
Nuisance permits are available to farmers who want to bring in their own hunters. A coordinated effort to recruit more private landowners to allow hunting, and perhaps a longer season that all the municipalities on the East End would abide by, would be alternatives that should be tested.
One only needs to hear Gergela speak about the cull to realize there is something very wrong here. He speaks, almost gleefully, of "sharpshooters" who will focus on "does and baby deer" taking them out with shots to the head. These upisland sharpshooters would be roaming our neighborhoods, completely unfamiliar with the terrain. Thousands of citizens have signed a petition opposing the cull.
Aren't our elected officials supposed to be representing them as well as the special interests?
The East Hampton Trustees, for example, point out no one has even asked if these sharpshooters would be allowed on Trustees' managed land. That could end up in court, and at least one other suit has already been filed, with more expected.
Here's the bottom line: the cull isn't going to happen this year. We suggest all the municipalities get together and fund a contraception or sterilization study, and finally seriously consider implementing it, regardless of the cost. Then give it a few years to work. Meanwhile, encourage those who are hurt economically to apply for nuisance permits to allow hunting on their property.
Gergela speaks of the "infestation" of deer as if they are bedbugs in a hotel. It's important to realize what species really "infested" the East End. It's quite possible the deer population hasn't changed much over the years, but the human population – and the accompanying development – has.