The Southold Town Board voted unanimously Tuesday night to partake in a federal program aimed at culling deer herds across the East End, even as those who oppose the move promise to take legal action.
Board members, however, are not wavering on their stance.
The board voted to contribute $25,000 to the Long Island Farm Bureau to participate in a regional federal sharpshooter program to thin the herd.
The decision is based on the town Planning Department’s recent completion of an environmental impact study that determined the program would have no significant adverse impacts on the environment.
While people on both sides of the debate took the podium during Tuesday’s meeting, most voiced their opposition to the program. The dissenters argued that it’s a misuse of taxpayer dollars and it poses potential danger to the public.
“There is no reason to do this,” said Wendy Chamberlain, founder of the Wildlife Preservation Coalition. “If you get away with this Southold would be the home of the largest deer cull in the history of New York State.”
Following the meeting, she vowed to make good on her promise to take legal action against the Town if it permits sharpshooting to move forward.
“We are taking rapid steps to end this,” she told the Suffolk Times prior to the vote.
Supervisor Scott Russell stood by the board’s action Tuesday night, stating that the overpopulation of deer on the North Fork is having an adverse effect on resident’s health, finance and overall safety.
“This conversation has been going on for eight years, we have weighed all the options,” Mr. Russell said. “We have made a decision based on what we think is best for the community. If a third party wants to step in and take legal action that is certainly their right. We are moving forward.”
Mr. Russell said the board’s efforts to end the epidemic in Southold would not end with the sharpshooting program. Other steps including lobbying state legislators to reduce bowhunting setbacks, he said.
The coalition’s attorney, Jeff Baker, said in a phone interview Tuesday that the Town could expect the lawsuit to be filed “very shortly.”
It is a similar situation in other East End towns.
Most recently, East Hampton backed out of the program after being sued by a different environmental group.
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.
The towns of Southampton, Riverhead and Shelter Island all decided not to participate.
Brookhaven Town Board authorized 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.
As of now it appears Southold may be the lone East End municipality to enroll in the U.S. Department of Agriculture-funded program.