No. 8 Story of the Year: Deer population spins out of control

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | The rising deer population in Southold Town caused some resdients to call for

The deer population kept booming this year in Southold Town, but residents who have suffered from years of car accidents, mangled and munched landscaping and an array of tick-borne illnesses vowed this year to fight back.

Officials estimated at a forum on the deer problem sponsored by Southold Town in September that there were around 10,000 deer in town, leading Town Supervisor Scott Russell to exclaim that Southold’s deer woes amounted to a critical “pest management” situation.

Dozens of Southold residents, many of whom had endured more than one severe case of Lyme disease, babesiosis or ehrlichiosis, and sometimes a combination of them, signed a petition late this summer urging the town to take action to control the deer herd, and more than 100 residents packed the town’s recreation center in Peconic for the deer forum.

The town invited USDA representative Lee Humberg to the forum to explain the USDA’s Wildlife Services division’s sharpshooter program, and he said the federal agency would charge between $1,500 and $2,500 a night and, on a good night, might take out 50 deer.

“If in the Town of Southold there are 10,000 deer, I’m not going to solve your problem,” he said at the forum.

Farmers have long wrestled with the problem of deer trampling and eating their crops. Deer fences have been popping up around farm fields in Southold for several years, and this fall the Town Board allowed deer fences on residential properties for the first time.

The town also has been making it easier for hunters and hungry Long Islanders to put venison to good use by delivering deer taken during bow-hunting season to Long Island Cares, which donates the meat to food pantries.

The program has had some success. As of mid-December, the town had collected 125 deer. Last year, only 56 were killed during the entire bow-hunting season.

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