The U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced that thousands of pounds of venison were donated to food pantries during the controversial deer cull that concluded last month.
But opponents of the federal sharpshooting program said that figure is misleading and have threatened to take further legal action if plans for another cull on the East End crop up next year.
A USDA spokeswoman said the agency was still working on compiling the final figures — including the total number of deer taken — in the cull, which ended in mid-April, but estimated the total amount of venison donated to food pantries exceeded 4,000 pounds.
That number was verified by Island Harvest spokesperson Don Miller, who said the nonprofit received close to 4,500 pounds of venison from deer taken in the cull.
He added said the last shipment came in around April 14.
“If you do the math, it is not even 100 deer that they butchered,” said Mike Tessitore of Hunters for Deer, a group that lobbied against the cull. “The farm bureau acted like they were doing a service to the community, saying they were providing food for the needy, but in all actuality they probably shot like 400 deer with this program and only a quarter of them got processed for food. It was a total failure.”
The federal sharpshooting program has been the source of much debate ever since it was proposed last year by Long Island Farm Bureau. The cull itself began in late March. Farmers have said they’ve struggled with damage from a growing deer population; homeowners and motorists have also expressed concern.
Opponents of the plan — an unlikely combination of hunters and animal advocates — have called it inhumane and a threat to hunters’ rights.
Should an East End cull be proposed again next year, Mr. Tessitore said his group would file further legal action to prevent it.
“They are not going to get away with it this easy next time,” he said.
Long Island Farm Bureau had originally pitched the cull plan to all East End municipalities, asking each town or village to chip in $25,000 to match its own contribution, which it received as part of a state grant to thin the herd. Only Southold Town and East Hampton Town and Village expressed interest.
Officials of both East Hampton entities voted to go ahead with the cull, but dropped out in early February amid threats of legal action by Hunters for Deer, the Animal Welfare Institute and the Wildlife Preservation Coalition of Eastern Long Island.
A few weeks later, Southold Town also voted to participate and allocated the $25,000, at which point the same groups tried unsuccessfully to obtain an injunction preventing the cull from proceeding.
The three organizations later filed litigation against the Department of Environmental Conservation, a case that prompted a state judge to halt the issuance of any further cull-related permits.
The cull eventually took place on private properties in Riverhead and both private and town-owned land in Southold, federal officials said. Riverhead Town sources said sharpshooting also took place on state land, including Wildwood State Park and Hallock State Park Preserve.
The USDA spokeswoman said she expects to it to “take some time” before the final cull report is completed.
After that, she said, the agency will recommend that the farm bureau make the report available to the public.