Opponents of a plan to cull the deer herd in Southold have taken legal action against the town to prevent it from moving forward.
A lawsuit and temporary restraining order were filed in court Friday morning, according to Wendy Chamberlain, founder of the Wildlife Preservation Coalition of Eastern Long Island. The request to put the brakes on the plan comes 10 days after board members voted unanimously in favor of contributing $25,000 to the Long Island Farm Bureau to participate in the United State Department of Agriculture’s sharpshooter program to reduce the number of deer within town lines.
The LIFB had originally pitched the plan to all East End municipalities, asking each town or village interested in participating to pitch in funds to help match the $250,000 the organization planned to contribute, which it received as part of a state grant to thin the herd. In recent weeks however, both East Hampton Town and Village dropped out after a judge issued a temporary restraining order, stopping the towns from moving forward.
Southold’s planning department recently declared the plan a “type-2 action” under State Environmental Quality Review law, stating that the program would have no significant adverse impacts on the environment. East Hampton Town and Village had not completed a SEQR review before they were taken to court.
Opponents of the culling program said the town’s action was short-sighted and pose potential danger to the public.
“I think the court will stop [Southold Town] and require them to do a proper environmental impact statement on what they are proposing,” Ms. Chamberlain said. “These sweeping policies don’t work.”
Mr. Russell said on Friday that any decision by the court would be respected by the town, and “at the end of the day, we just wouldn’t contribute $25,000. That’s our only liability.”
Following the board’s Feb. 11 vote, Supervisor Scott Russell said board members were acting in the best interest of the town, stating that the overpopulation of deer on the North Fork is having an adverse affect on resident’s health, finance and overall safety.
Furthermore, environmental degradation — damage to the area’s understory — has been recognized by the USDA itself.
A trip report from botanist Thomas Rawinski to Southold in September of 2013 noted that “the forests have been severely damaged by deer, to the point where trees can no longer replace themselves. There are simply too many deer devouring the tree seedlings and saplings.”
On Friday Southold Town board member Jill Doherty said said the town would move forward with the initiative despite the legal action.
“We have received hundreds of responses from people that live in the town that are in favor of [the program],” she said. “We have done the proper protocol and we are moving ahead.”
Alternatively, the coalition has pressed the town consider other methods of thinning the herd such as porcina zona pellucida, a protein that “blocks a crucial aspect of reproduction” in female deer, reducing pregnancy rates by 80 to 90 percent, according to a fact sheet issued by Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. Use of the PZP would require its implementation to go hand-in-hand with a research study, however, and critics of that approach have pointed out that it had not been used on deer populations as large as Southold’s.