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No. 4 Top News Story: Deer go from nuisance to ‘public health crisis’

JAMES COLLIGAN FILE PHOTO | Deer management is one of the items up for discussion at Tuesday's Southold Town Board work session and meeting.
JAMES COLLIGAN FILE PHOTO | The Southold Town Board has held meetings to discuss deer management plans.

Deer have been on the North Fork for a long time. But in 2013, issues concerning the burgeoning local deer population came to the forefront.

The gradual increase in both awareness and incidence of tick-borne illnesses, the increasing numbers of the animals and the growth of a town-run deer management program took center stage this year.

Supervisor Scott Russell has called illnesses spread by the deer that roam local woods, yards and streets a “public health crisis.”

The issue started gaining traction when 12 individuals formed the North Fork Deer Management Alliance in July. The group called on government to help reduce deer density in Southold from an estimated 65-plus deer per square mile to under 10.

A few months later, over 250 residents packed the Peconic recreation center as Mr. Russell said plainly, “We need to focus on culling the herd and easing restrictions on hunters. We have to take each year far more deer than are being reproduced.”

The town continued to move toward this goal in the closing months of the year, as the supervisor’s 2014 budget earmarked $75,000 for “deer eradication expenses,” a new expense on the town level. In mid-November, a member of the Deer Management Alliance told a crowd in Orient that the town — in conjunction with the Long Island Farm Bureau — will support a sharpshooter program run through the United States Department of Agriculture to cull the herd in specific spots in town.

And most recently, a group of North Fork lawmakers and advocacy groups lobbied an up-Island assemblyman to move a bill on the state level that would give East End towns the local option to reduce bowhunting setbacks from 500 to 150 feet.

Passing this legislation is one of several actions Mr. Russell hopes to see come to fruition in the coming year.

“Southold Town needs to take the deer crisis and make it priority number one,” the supervisor said this fall.

Editor’s note: We’re counting down the top 10 news stories of 2013. Check back every day until Jan. 1 to follow along.