Editorial: Deer forum is of critical importance

On Wednesday, Southold Town will host an important forum on the problems posed by the far too large deer population that is thriving and rapidly growing on the North Fork.

The forum is scheduled for Sept. 12 at 6:30 p.m. in Town Hall.

Residents of the North Fork know how serious the overpopulation of deer is in Southold. There are far too many deer here, more than any time in our recent history, and even more than when English settlers arrived in the early 17th century.

They are in our yards in the middle of the day, and have become accustomed to living around people. The herd has reached such proportions that farmers now routinely have to put up expensive high fencing around their fields to protect crops, which of course pushes the herds around their fields and into yards.

Town officials next week will say that the white-tailed deer population has wreaked havoc on gardens, damaged expensive crops, raised critical health concerns for such things as Lyme disease, and caused scores of vehicular collisions. Deer struck by cars are a common sight on all our roads.

In previous years, town officials have said deer populations were at emergency levels. And, data will show, the hunting season — which opens Oct. 1 — has not brought the population down to acceptable levels. Just 1,400 deer have been culled from the 2008 hunting season through 2016.

That is not enough to make a dent in the growing population of white-tailed deer. Additional steps must be devised and sold to the public, which must understand the health threat posed to all of us who see deer on our property.

And that is what this herd is — a serious health threat. Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses are thriving, with new ones identified almost every year and more expected as our climate changes.

Deer are the “blood meal” ticks require. Many residents have seen deer in their yards that are literally covered with ticks. A sharp reduction in the number of deer per square mile will interrupt this cycle and stop the spread of diseases. Lyme disease rates will fall, as will the threat of other diseases like babesiosis and Alpha-gal allergy.

A plan to bring in federal sharpshooters failed when towns and villages across the East End came out against it. That was a mistake. Private groups of sharpshooters have been hired by homeowner associations to cull herds in their neighborhoods, which is a start but is not enough to bring the numbers down.

Attending next week’s meeting in Town Hall and listening to experts from the town, state and federal governments is a good way to understand how serious this problem is.