Letter: The North Fork isn’t a Disney cartoon

12/19/2013 6:00 AM |

KATHARINE SCHROEDER FILE PHOTO |  The fragile ecosystem of the North Fork does not exist to be a live-action Disney cartoon, one reader writes in a letter to the editor.

To the editor:

This is not an argument between culling advocates and Bambiphiles, but an argument of science vs. emotion.

Sterilization efforts do not have, nor have they ever had, significant, long-term effects on deer populations, but amount to the ecological equivalent of fighting erosion by replacement with sand. As prolifically as the whitetail breeds, sterilization is as unfeasible for deer as it is for Australian rabbits.

The whitetail is a large herbivore, not a top-level consumer, which means that the best form of population control lies in predation; stated elsewise, part of its ecological niche is a food course for upper-level consumers. National parks such as those out west did not get their deer and elk populations under control via sterilization, they did so by reintroducing wolves (natural predators) to those areas.

Up until the early 1900s, when the last wolf on Long Island died near Wolf Pit, the predominant population control method was predation. As the new top predator, it is quite unethical for humans to oust such a vital component of the local ecosystem as the wolf and not assume the responsibilities that we inherited in the process. Culling by way of sharpshooter is no less humane than intraspecific competition (which often relies on starvation), natural predation by wolves, or permanent maiming by an automobile, but is actually the opposite.

As a biologist, I advocate for the health of the entire ecosystem, not one species at the expense of all others. If the discussion was about a different overpopulated, disease-carrying vector or pest such as a rat or opossum, one not as “cute” as the deer, there would be no discussion. The fragile ecosystem of the North Fork does not exist to be a live-action Disney cartoon, and can only return to a healthy state when all parts are protected. Uncorrected, the North Fork will suffer its own Silent Spring, as screech owls and protected eastern box turtles see their habitats destroyed by deer. As population increases, the ultimate population control will invariably arise: disease (which is also how those devastating Australian rabbits are kept in check).

Josh Hubbard, Southold