October 11, 2006

Deer Management Plan Proposed

Oh, deer! Depending on an individual's outlook, they're either pesky intruders with a penchant for garden fare or Bambi personified. But no matter how they're perceived, one thing is clear: East End residents have been under siege by an ever-increasing deer population that's running rampant across area roads and sparking a safety hazard to residents.

With an eye toward controlling the burgeoning deer community, the Southampton Town Board met with Mary Wilson, the town's community preservation program manager, Daniel L. Rosenblatt, Ph.D., regional wildlife manager of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Marty Shea, the town's chief environmental analyst, and Laura Smith, principal environmental analyst, to discuss a deer management plan.

Southampton Town Supervisor Skip Heaney said as part of the town's community preservation plan management, it's necessary to realize the need for stewardship of properties that abut state-owned land.

"We have a very large deer herd," said Heaney, adding the deer are eating everything in sight, decimating gardens and flowerbeds. Currently, there are an estimated 20,000 deer in Suffolk County.

"I don't know how many hundreds of deer are living in East Quogue," said Heaney, who hails from the area.

Smith has been working with the DEC to come up with a management plan, including maps and pamphlets that will ultimately be issued to the public.

So far, said Smith, the goal has been to take a look at all town-owned land in Southampton eligible for hunting. There are 11 areas that meet the DEC's criteria for hunting, which includes land that's at least 10 acres or more, has offsite parking, and has boundaries 500 feet from any building or residence. Signs will be posted to remind hunters of the 500-foot safety zone regulations.

Hunting areas include parcels in Tuckahoe Swamp, Tuckahoe Woods, Big Woods, Barrel Hill, Southampton Hills, Upper Great Hill, the Noyac Preserve, Great Swamp, Whiskey Hill, Golf at the Bridge and Sagaponack Woods. There are 16 access points in conjunction with the 11 sites. Some are open only to archery; not all are open to shotguns.

The plan was inspired by residents who want to hunt during the season.

Archery season begins on October 1 and ends on December 31. Shotgun hunting begins on the first Monday after the first Saturday in January and ends the last weekday of the month; hunting is allowed on weekdays only.

Each year, 1000 permits are issued by the Town of Southampton for shotgun use on private properties where hunting is allowed with owner endorsement. The state issues permits for shotgun hunting on state-owned land. Archery enthusiasts need only a New York State hunting license.

The number of hunters allowed on state-owned land is mandated by the number of parking spaces available; parking spaces limit the number of parties allowed access. Shotgun use is managed by daily access and by advanced reservation only.

Rosenblatt discussed how tags are distributed across New York. On Long Island, he said, the focus is on antler-less deer, in an effort to control population. The goal, he said, is to get the population growth rate to zero. Currently, each female doe typically has two fawns a year, causing the population to double.

Due to hunting restrictions and heavily developed areas on Long Island there are challenges in lessening the deer population, with most deer currently killed as a result of accidents on the road or starvation, according to Rosenblatt.

Starvation drives deer into backyards and gardens for food. And, he added, the problem will be harder to tackle if individuals keep leaving food out for the animals; it is now illegal under state law to feed deer.

Councilman Chris Nuzzi asked if there are safety concerns regarding hunters disobeying safety zones near residential property. Rosenblatt said it does happen, but hunters are mainly law-abiding and "very good at turning each other in."

The cooperative agreement between the town and the DEC will allow for enforcement in areas, such as trespassing.

Wilson said the agreement will not only help with deer control but will also help hunters to aid in efforts against other illegal activity on property, such as ATVs.

The town board agreed to have 11 individual cooperative agreements drafted so if one area needs to be closed, others will remain open.

A link to the DEC will be made available on the town's website.

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