Expand the hunt for deer

Southold is doing a good job of trying to deal with its deer problems, but everyone knows it’s not enough.
There are too many deer here. With a herd estimated at 10,000 animals, they are a prime host for ticks that carry serious diseases, they destroy natural and landscape vegetation and they threaten human lives and property when they cross roads and highways.
With wolves, coyotes and rifle hunting all things of the past on Long Island, deer have thrived here, their population exploding. The North Fork’s combination of open space, farmland, woods and suburban development — with its landscaping and gardens — are the perfect environment for them, with lots browsing territory and plenty of copses and woods in which to retreat.
Animals in the wild endure harsh realities. Imminent violence and death are part of their lives. Contrary to the belief that humans have invaded the natural deer habitat — creating conflict by living where deer came first — the fact is humans have created a cushy and expanding habitat for deer.
Things are out of whack. An annual bow hunt from Oct. 1 to Dec. 31, which draws about 70 hunters onto 290 acres of Southold Town lands, culled 462 deer from the herd last year. That doesn’t make a dent in the problem. Neither would contraception, which has remained a cumbersome, impractical way to control large deer populations.
It’s great that the town has opened some of its lands and provided hunters with a refrigerator truck this year to encourage donations of venison to food pantries. It’s reasonable that the town may soon legalize eight-foot fencing to protect backyard gardens and shrubs from browsing deer — not that it solves the larger problem.
The North Fork needs more hunters and more lands on which bow hunting is permitted. State rules allow for it now. No special permits or programs are necessary. Homeowners merely need to grant permission for bow hunters to hunt on their properties.
Several neighboring homeowners on Nassau Point have done it. That’s a good first step. More homeowners all over town need to be encouraged to allow bow hunting on their properties. The village of North Haven on the South Fork did it. The bow hunt there took a decade to reduce a herd of 900 to 100. By recruiting homeowners and coordinating access to their properties for more qualified hunters, Southold could make a proportional dent in its deer population over time.

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