They were on the horns of a dilemma. During the 2009 campaign, when people in East Hampton weren't talking about the fiscal crisis, they were talking about deer. That's how Councilman Dominick Stanzione remembers it.
"It seemed the most consistent question from citizens was, 'Why hasn't the town done anything about deer management?'" he said this week.
Once elected, the lawmaker recalled, "I took the issue up, formed a deer management working group, and set out to develop a plan that was comprehensive, effective and compassionate."
Tomorrow night, members of the public will have the chance to weigh in on a proposal Stanzione describes as "the first definitive response to the emerging deer emergency."
"Is it perfect?" he queried rhetorically. "No. That's why we're having a public hearing. I look forward to hearing the community's input."
The East Hampton Business Alliance has been providing town officials with input on the topic for years. EHBA executive director Margaret Turner reminded this week that her group urged the last administration to address the deer overpopulation to no avail. "Needless to say we are pleased that Councilman Stanzione has taken the lead on this and developed a three to five year plan that addresses this problem," she offered.
Turner believes, "The increase in the number of accidents and tick related diseases pose real health and safety issues to all of us, and our pets." Vehicle accidents increased 400 percent in 2011 from 2008 and one doctor alone reported cases of tick diseases doubled in 2011 from 2010, she reported.
"Devastation to our woodlands and natural vegetation will not be reversible unless something is done immediately," she predicted. The number of deer twin sets being born has increased, she said, and there will not be sufficient food to sustain the deer population, as well as other animals that need vegetation to survive.
Turner listed "the blight of deer fences" as a threat to farm and open space vistas. EHBA worries the unsightly fences will continue to proliferate as more and more homeowners attempt to protect their properties. "Our vistas are critical to our economy and need to be protected - open and fenceless," she said.
Opponents to assertions made in the plan – that deer overpopulation relates to increased tick-borne illnesses – have argued against the use of lethal measures, such as culling herds. Turner said EHBA is not averse to measures like contraceptives, road reflectors, and reduced speed limits. "We support these and other methods to maintain the population once it is under control," she said.
Trouble is, deer meat harvested through culling is donated to local food banks, but the state department of environmental conservation won't allow venison treated with contraceptives to be donated, nor does the DEC acknowledge the use of contraceptives as a form of deer control.
"A study done back in 2006 on the average deer density that our land could support showed an already overpopulation of deer, by almost double," Turner said. "Now six and a half years later, that number has gotten much worse."
"The deer (over) population must be addressed, and must be addressed now," she concluded. Stanzione agreed. "The health and safety of our community depends on our taking action," he said.
Before any of the suggested population mitigation measures may be taken, the plan calls for a survey to derive an accurate count. The town board's recently adopted 2013 budget includes funding for the study.
Tomorrow's hearing will be held at 7 PM at town hall.