Twelve Southold Town residents have banded together to take on what they feel is the North Fork’s largest health and environmental problem – the overpopulation of deer.
The North Fork Deer Management Alliance, formed in July, says overpopulation plays a key role in the increasing diagnosis of tick-borne diseases like Lyme, Babesiosis, and Ehrlichiosis.
According to State Department of Health statistics by county, Suffolk holds 49 percent of the state’s babesiosis cases and 44 percent of Ehrlichiosis cases, said Susan Switzer, member of the alliance’s steering committee.
“We have created the environment that works so well for deer,” Ms. Switzer said. “We’re feeding them well on our agricultural crops and we’ve killed all their predators.”
The alliance said the overabundance poses environmental issues as well.
“Deer in current numbers are also responsible for the destruction of the understory and with it the habitat for native species of birds and animals,” a release reads.
The group is promoting action targeted at reducing deer populations, bringing Southold’s estimated deer population from roughly 3,500 or 65 deer per square mile (according to the Department of Environmental Conservation) down to the Center for Disease Control recommendation of 10 deer per square mile, according to the alliance website.
Alliance members are circulating a petition and going door-to-door to collect signatures in support of this effort, Ms. Switzer said: “I alone have 100 signatures so far.”
The petition reads: “We the undersigned call on the Town of Southold to take action to reduce the deer population from the current level of 65 plus per square mile to 8-10 or fewer per square mile through the proven means of targeted removal.”
Members are also urging residents to attend the Southold Town Board’s Deer Management Forum being held Sept. 26. From 6 to 8 p.m. at the town recreation center.
“We need to be moving on this,” Ms. Switzer said. “I just don’t want to have another meeting where we all talk. We want to make sure something happens.”
The alliance is proposing the start of a U.S. Department of Agriculture sharpshooter program, a control program to reduce deer densities commonly run by the USDA’s Wildlife Services department.
“Our town of Southold, we could be the pilot program on the East End,” Ms. Switzer said. “Action through some targeted removal like the UDSA sharp shooter program so far that seems to be the most viable answer to this.”