Cull opponents reload; second lawsuit planned

USDA sharpshooters reportedly started culling the deer herd on private land early last week. (Credit: Mike Tessitore/Hunters for Deer)
USDA sharpshooters reportedly started culling the deer herd on private land early last week. (Credit: Mike Tessitore/Hunters for Deer)

After recent litigation against Southold Town was dismissed, opponents of a plan to cull deer on the East End using U.S. Department of Agriculture sharpshooters — a plan that’s already underway — now intend to take the state Department of Environmental Conservation to court for allowing the program to move forward. 

The Wildlife Preservation Coalition of Eastern Long Island is poised to file a lawsuit and was expected to request a temporary restraining order Wednesday in state Supreme Court in Albany to halt the cull. The coalition was expected to file the action jointly with a number of other groups, including the Animal Welfare Institute and Hunters for Deer.

“They are giving out deer hunting permits like candy,” said coalition founder Wendy Chamberlain. “It is pretty disgusting.”

Mike Tessitore, founder of Hunters for Deer, said the lawsuit was expected to be filed on Wednesday, but he deferred comment about the suit to Jeff Baker, the attorney for the group.

Mr. Baker said on Wednesday that certain “logistical issues” were holding up the process — namely that he, nor anyone else, is exactly sure on which properties the USDA is culling the herd.

Whereas Southold Town determined under its State Environmental Quality Review study that the cull would not adversely impact the environment, “we don’t know what the DEC is claiming” due to the lack of details.

Last Friday, a spokeswoman for the DEC said the agency — which has to approve permits on properties where the cull will take place — had issued 12 deer damage permits for the East End, with six more pending. Permits are valid through March 31.

Updated permit numbers were not immediately available Wednesday. As of Tuesday afternoon, the agency said it had not yet been informed of any litigation and therefore could not comment.

A Department of Agriculture spokeswoman said last Friday that the cull “started this week. That’s all we can say, because we are not the lead on this.”

She referred a reporter to the Long Island Farm Bureau for details.

The LIFB had lobbied all municipalities across the East End — as well as Brookhaven Town — to allocate funds to kill as many as 3,000 deer. But that number has been reduced to about 1,000, because Southold is now the only municipality participating.

Joe Gergela, executive director of the farm bureau, stopped responding to requests for comment about the cull more than two weeks ago.

“They’re the ones responsible for releasing all the information. At the end of the project, they will release all the final numbers,” said USDA spokeswoman Tanya Espinosa.

The lawsuit against the DEC comes less than a week after a New York State Supreme Court judge dismissed a similar suit filed by those same groups against Southold Town seeking to prevent the town from participating in the cull.

Last Wednesday, Judge Gerard Asher determined that the suit, which protested the town’s decision to contribute $25,000 to the Long Island Farm Bureau to take part in the sharpshooter program, was without merit.

Judge Asher agreed that the Southold’s decision to proceed with the cull was made to protect agriculture from being trampled and grazed and fit within the DEC’s environmental review process.

The groups plan to appeal that ruling “soon,” Ms. Chamberlain said, hoping a new judge will reconsider and take into account residents’ fears about sharpshooting.

The cull kicked off last week across multiple private properties on eastern Long Island, as parcels in Southold, Riverhead and Southampton have received state approval for the hunt. The cull is expected to continue through the month.

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