They don't want the town board to pass the buck; they want the bucks, and the does, to pass . . . away. The bulk of speakers who filled East Hampton Town Hall last Thursday night for a three-hour public hearing on a proposed deer management plan favored culling deer to cut the burgeoning population of hoofed inhabitants.
Increased cases of deer-related diseases, of deer vs. car accidents, and of forest deterioration were cited in both the plan and by speakers as justification for taking the lethal measure. Opponents questioned estimated costs of a culling, favored more humane measures, such as contraceptives, and refuted assertions that fewer deer would mean fewer cases of Lyme disease and other tick borne illnesses.
Ticks don't die, just because their host does, Ilissa Meyer, declared. They'll leave a dead deer and look to latch on to another mammal, "like your grandchildren," she said. A frequent visitor to town board deer meetings, she called upon the board to solicit more scientific, rather than anecdotal, data about deer and ticks. Other speakers, such as Ellen Crain from the East Hampton Group for Wildlife looked askance at the deer/tick connection. She also noted that the lethal aspects of the plan are the only ones that are well developed; other solutions receive only "passing mention." Additionally she called proposed measures "grossly underfunded."
Agreeing with Crain, Bob Silverstone from the wildlife group decried bow hunting as an activity that leaves deer to die "a slow, agonizing death."
Expanding hunting opportunities is one of the suggested deer management measures included in the draft document. But several hunters noted that deer have found other places to live, as their numbers increased and they defoliated the understory in forests and preserves. "Places where we're allowed to hunt are absolutely barren," Hugh Miles observed. Deer are "living on the streets," he reported.
"I don't know what you're going to do about the herds that live in our neighborhoods," Joan Palumbo exclaimed. To the argument that deer have been around longer than she, Palumbo prompted laughter from the audience when she said, "I don't see any 72-year-old deer out there." The "good deer" live in the forest, she said, "The bad deer, the Bubonic plague, live in my backyard."
The loss of forest understory due to over-browsing has had an effect on other species that feed on the vegetation, Robert Wick of Amagansett said. Deborah Wick detailed the impact her son suffered when he contracted a new and emerging tick borne illness. She urged, "very, very strenuous culling." Carl Reimerdes called the deer population a "plague" in Montauk and called for culling "Now. No more studies."
It was mentioned several times that if contraception is a chosen option, meat harvested from the deer can't be used to feed the hungry. Russ Calemmo said last year local food pantries received 6000 pounds of venison to distribute among the needy. "We fed over 2000 families," he said.
Two speakers, Kathy Cunningham from the East Hampton Village Preservation Society, and second homeowner Christine Ganitsch spoke favorably about a combination culling/contraceptive program. Cunningham believes culling leads to a "biological rebound response," causing deer to step up procreation. Ganitsch was a member of a deer task force in St. Bernard's Township in New Jersey. Formed in 1999, the task force has had success with the hybrid program.
Some speakers questioned whether there actually are more deer, or if they're just more visible due to the proliferation of fences and loss of browsing opportunities that drive them out of traditional habitats. The plan proposes conducting a survey to gauge an accurate number. "Are there more deer or are they just now in your neighborhood?" wildlife rehabilitator Wendy Chamberlain queried.
Speaking on behalf of the Concerned Citizens of Montauk, Jeremy Samuelson called the plan "a broad outline." He said the next step should be a survey, with data given to a qualified wildlife biologist. Management measures should be "considered through the lens of science," he said.
The plan is the first written by a large municipality in New York State, planning director Marguerite Wolffsohn informed at the outset of the meeting. The State Department of Environmental Conservation is charged with deer management throughout New York, and the local proposal complies with their plan.
Assemblyman Fred Thiele was on hand last Thursday night. He expressed his and his senate counterpart, Ken LaValle's willingness to work with the town to craft any necessary state legislation.
The next step for town officials entails compiling an after hearing evaluation of comments and revising the plan, if desired. The record has been left open for 30 days for written comments.