Predictions of how many deer will be killed through a federal program aimed at culling herds across the East End have fallen sharply as towns and villages back away from participation.
And as it looks now, Southold may end up being the only local government to partake in the program.
The original plan drafted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture — the agency that would be paid to thin the herd — called for reducing the deer population across the East End by 2,400 to 3,000.
Martin Lowney, New York State wildlife director with the USDA, said Friday that the number will now likely be closer to 1,000.
“The letter I wrote in July was based on what I would do with [$500,000]” that was originally expected to be available for the program, with help from the villages and towns, Mr. Lowney said.
“That was contingent upon who participates,” he said. “Now that we know the money has changed, no one should be too surprised.”
Opponents of the plan had filed suit against East Hampton Town and East Hampton Village over the program last fall. A state Supreme Court judge put the plan on hold last Thursday pending further judicial review, and both municipalities officially withdrew from the program last Friday afternoon.
Mr. Lowney did not immediately return a request for comment after the news broke.
Southold Supervisor Scott Russell said that on the North Fork, the cull is still scheduled to move forward.
“We are doing our homework and getting done what we need to get done until we’re instructed otherwise,” he said.
The Southold Town planning department, he said, is conducting an environmental review, the results of which will determine if more study is needed or if the plan is OK as written.
The supervisor said details of the review are expected to be presented next Tuesday in Town Hall.
East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell reported last Friday that one reason the town had backed out of the plan was that the town had not completed an environmental analysis.
The Long Island Farm Bureau, which had secured a $250,000 grant for the program, had lobbied all East End towns and villages last fall to contribute, asking for $25,000 from each town, including Brookhaven, and $15,000 from each village.
However the towns of Southampton, Riverhead and Shelter Island all eventually decided not to participate.
Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine said last week that the Town Board had authorized him to allocate up to $5,000 for a cull on the town’s eastern side, although the town had yet to sign any agreement. It was not immediately clear if the $5,000 would suffice for Brookhaven Town to take part in the culling program.
Joe Gergela, the farm bureau’s executive director, last week confirmed that the number of deer expected to be taken in the cull had been reduced to about 1,000. However he did not return calls seeking comment after East Hampton Town and Village announced they were backing out.
While Mr. Gergela confirmed last week that plans are “very close to being finalized,” another group of opponents, the Wildlife Coalition of Eastern Long Island, is also ready to file suit against Southold Town if it decides to move forward with the culling plan.
As of Thursday, Southold Town had not officially signed on.