With $225K to spend, USDA cull kills 192 deer

White-tailed deer grazing in Southold Tuesday. (Credit: Katharine Schroeder)
White-tailed deer grazing in Southold. (Credit: Katharine Schroeder)

Nearly six months after a controversial deer cull kicked off on farms across the East End, the results are finally in. And to the group that led the effort, the statistics are disappointing. 

Granted $200,000 from New York State and another $25,000 from Southold Town to hire United States Department of Agriculture sharpshooters, the Long Island Farm Bureau launched a program that — while praised by some — also brought vocal opposition along with it.

Despite cries from animal activists who feared for the safety of the animals and protests from local hunters who said they should be permitted to do the job themselves, 192 deer were killed through the six-week program.

While opposition to the plan was loud, many members of the public — namely in Southold, the only East End town to participate in the program — supported the use of sharpshooters since fewer deer might ease health concerns, provide relief from damaged crops and improve traffic safety.

A report being released by the USDA today — which will be unveiled at a 10 a.m. press conference in front of Southold Town Hall — details the results of the cull, which had once been expected to kill as many as 3,000 deer.

Of the 192 deer actually killed, 60 were taken from the South Fork — though no more details were released on precisely where those were taken from. Specific locations on the North Fork were not given either, only that 2,035 acres were monitored.

“This project established that white-tailed deer can be safely, humanely and effectively removed from agricultural communities across a wide area and from state land on Long Island,” the 21-page report states.

Joe Gergela, executive director of the LIFB, was less muted on how the cull met — or didn’t meet — his own expectations.

“It didn’t work. And that’s what we’re saying … but let’s understand why,” he said.

Mr. Gergela and opponents of the effort have gone head-to-head from the start. Two of those opposition groups — the Wildlife Preservation Coalition of Eastern Long Island and Hunters for Deer — unsuccessfully sued Southold Town for its decision to allocate funds to the cull. A second suit filed against the Long Island Farm Bureau put a halt to state-issued permits required to allow hunters to kill more deer, though the groups have said they would be open to reviewing permits themselves and allowing them on a case-by-case basis when applicable.

The USDA report notes several hurdles the federal sharpshooting teams faced, resulting in the lower numbers. Poor weather, a short time period for the cull, legal obstacles, and “direct interference from individuals opposed to this project” were all cited.

In seven different instances, the USDA reported accidental or intentional interference and one time police were reportedly called “with an individual obstructing work.” Cameras set up to spot deer movement spotted humans at baiting sites 20 different times.

Michael Tessitore, who founded Hunters for Deer last fall, declined to comment on the report.

Wendy Chamberlain, founder of the Wildlife Coalition of Eastern Long Island, wrote to the Suffolk Times this week, repeating similar concerns voiced in the past about a lack of information about the cull and the means by which deer were being taken.

“Professional culling organizations like the USDA use tactics including baiting, netting, high-powered rifles and hunting at night,” she wrote. “These tactics are unnecessarily violent and inhumane and, most importantly, do not work. A cull is a short-term solution.”

Opponents have also voiced concern that no firm numbers relating to the number of deer roaming the East End were ever provided — because they are not available — and therefore killing any number of deer could be considered overkill.

Southold Supervisor Scott Russell told Mr. Tessitore in January that he hoped to work with hunters long-term to provide more outlets for local hunters to help control the deer herd, and said he saw the cull as one part of a long-term solution to the deer problem. In recent weeks, he had prepared the public to expect lower numbers than anticipated without revealing exactly how many deer were taken. Mr. Russell is expected to attend Wednesday’s press conference.

Southold will be refunded half of the $25,000 it originally pledged for the cull, Mr. Gergela said.

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2014 East End Deer Damage Management Report