"A barbaric event of horror." That's how Bill Crain, founder of the East End Group for Wildlife, described the proposed use of sharpshooters to kill some 3000 deer -- does and fawns being the main target -- on the East End.
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On Saturday, Crain's group joined with the advocacy agencies Long Island Orchestrating for Nature, the Wildlife Preservation Coalition of Eastern Long Island, and Hunters for Deer in a rally against the cull.
A crowd topping 300 protestors carrying signs with slogans like "Save The Deer," "Cull = Slaughter," and "It Is Man's Fault" hooved it from the Hook Mill to Herrick Park in East Hampton Village.
Last fall wildlife advocates learned of a plan promoted by the Long Island Farm Bureau that, if adopted, would see U.S. Department of Agriculture sharpshooters using high powered rifles equipped with night vision scopes to kill deer at bait stations. A second method would involve capturing the animals in nets and shooting them at point blank range. The Farm Bureau received grants to cover a portion of the costs, but participating municipalities would also have to contribute.
The news last month that East Hampton Village voted to buck up its share ignited the opposition. A petition rapidly gleaned over 10,000 signatures. Opponents to the cull launched legal actions against both the village and Town of East Hampton. On Saturday, rally organizers announced plans to sue any and all municipalities and agencies that sign on to participate in the cull. So far the Town of Southold has adopted an approval resolution, while Riverhead Town officials have said, "Thanks, but no thanks."
The prior administration in East Hampton Town adopted a deer management plan that includes using a cull and voted to support the Farm Bureau plan, but failed to allocate the funding. Pointing to the lawsuits, Supervisor Larry Cantwell said he doubts any cull could happen in East Hampton this year. An environmental review of the proposal would have to be completed, he believes. But opponents complain an attempt to avoid environmental review is underway.
They also look askance at the failure to thoroughly pursue non-lethal methods of managing the deer population, such as sterilization, and question the veracity of population figures. Others disparage the argument that decreasing the deer population will result in fewer cases of Lyme disease among humans. If ticks that carry Lyme lose their prime hosts, they're more likely to hop on humans, they assert.
A cadre of camouflage–attired protestors walked alongside the wildlife advocates on Saturday. Michael Tesstitore of Hunters for Deer said that if there were less stringent hunting laws in place, "We'd be able to take care of the problem through proper regulation." Hunting should be the main management tool on Long Island, he added.
Meanwhile, organizers hope the show of numbers at the rally helps elected officials see their voters oppose the cull. "If we live in a democracy, this should matter," said Crain. Echoing statements made by Crain, John Di Leonardo, LION president and chair of the League of Humane Voters of Long Island called upon voters to send a message to their representatives: if you want to get re-elected, quash the cull.