Editorial: Hunting is our best bet to address deer problem

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO |  The deer population on the North Fork continues to grow.

One unarguable takeaway from last week’s deer forum in Peconic is that more needs to be done to cull the herd on the North Fork — and hunting seems to be the most financially feasible way to do it.

The town has improved its deer management program in recent years by increasing the town-owned land open to hunters from 200 acres in 2008 to more than 525 this season. Hunters have reacted by expressing keen interest, filling up all the available program slots over the past two years. Last year’s take was four times the 2009 total.

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But until state legislators give town leaders more freedom to regulate hunting on the local level, there is only so much the local program can do, because it’s simply unable to keep pace with the rapidly growing number of deer on the North Fork. An effort to let towns reduce the distance bowhunters must maintain from nearby dwellings from 500 to 150 feet has stalled in the state Assembly, resulting in a dead end for now.

One option Supervisor Scott Russell supports, and we hope Town Board members will back, would be to earmark $25,000 in next year’s budget to support a sharpshooting program through the U.S. Department of Agriculture to target deer in specific areas. While details have yet to be spelled out – including exactly where deer would be targeted or how many can be expected to be taken – Long Island Farm Bureau executive director Joe Gergela said the program would be rolled out over several years, culling the herd in hot spots where they’re known to congregate.

This option would cost far less than implementing a local version of Shelter Island’s 4-poster program — a multi-million dollar solution that fits that town better due to the high density of deer. Contributing its fair share toward the LIFB’s sharpshooting efforts – which would include $200,000 in state grant money and $25,000 from each of the five East End towns plus Brookhaven — would be a wise investment toward managing Southold’s overwhelming deer population.

Next year’s proposed town budget also includes an additional $50,000 the supervisor said could be used to incentivize hunting. More details were not immediately available but it sounds like a fresh idea.

Since it’s unlikely that just $75,000 can be expected to solve the town’s deer problem long-term, another option avid hunters also point out is to interest more young people in hunting. “Less video games” is their common cry and they emphasize that an appreciation for the outdoors is paramount if the end game is to manage the deer herd appropriately.

That’s hard to argue with.

A group now appears to be forming that wants to promote hunting among North Fork youth. That effort would be welcome and we’re interested to see how it evolves.