With a controversial deer cull expected to begin within weeks in Southold Town, over 125 people showed up in Peconic on Thursday night to hear out members of the entity in charge of running the program, as well as local leaders who say they plan to still move full steam ahead with the program, despite a strong showing from a group of hunters opposed to the idea.
Martin Lowney, New York State Wildlife Director with the United States Department of Agriculture, presented details of the plan to the public, most of whom seemed to favor of the plan as a first step toward controlling the deer population — the most vocal being Southold Supervisor Scott Russell.
“We didn’t partake in this program thinking it’s going to be a panacea,” he said at the start of the forum. “It’s not going to solve the problem. It’s not going to replace hunting, which is still a critical component to our deer management.”
But a loud crowd of hunters spoke up against the project, hoping to derail it before its planned start in early February.
At the heart of the matter, hunters say they are willing and able to hunt deer that local government is paying federal government to take out.
The only thing standing in the way, however, is state government — a hurdle local officials attempted to make headway on last year, though will have to revisit in 2014 in Albany.
“They’re doing all the things that we’re not allowed to do to be successful,” said Mike Tessitore of East Quogue, pointing to the USDA sharpshooters, who will be permitted to hunt at night, bait deer and use noise-suppressed rifles while culling the herd — all of which are largely illegal to the general public in New York State (baiting is permitted in rare circumstances). Mr. Tessitore founded Hunters for Deer, an organization he says represents 3,000 bowhunters.
Both Mr. Tessitore and Mr. Russell agreed that bringing more hunters into the fold would be for the best of the community over the long term. But the way state law regulates deer hunting, Mr. Lowney explained, simply doesn’t permit the hunting population to hunt enough deer to keep the herd in check.
“The current program doesn’t work,” he said. “You’re going the wrong direction, and need to do more to reduce the damage.”
The program is expected to start the first week of February, Mr. Lowney said, and will cost Southold Town $25,000 and the Long Island Farm Bureau $200,000. The LIFB had asked other East End towns and villages to sign on, however several municipalities — including Riverhead and Shetler Island — have so far opted out.
“The town board is 100 percent supporting this particular cull that’s being sponsored,” Mr. Russell said. “We stand behind it 100 percent, with the clear understanding that this is not going to solve the problem. And the larger solution to the problem is the hunters.
“In the meantime, the community has been resounding in their message to us – ‘We need to take action, and we need to take action now.’”
Read more in next week’s Suffolk Times for more on Thursday’s meeting, the deer cull and attempts to change state law opening up deer hunting.