Editorial: To cull deer herd, open more land to hunting

We all know there are far too many deer on the North Fork, and that efforts to sharply reduce their numbers have had limited success. The spread of tick-borne diseases makes the deer — who carry the ticks — a public health menace, and they should be treated as such by county and state health officials.

This far-too-big deer herd threatens the livelihood of every farmer still working this fertile land. The high fences they’ve put up to protect their crops have only pushed the deer into private backyards where they can find something to eat. And, increasingly, they seem to eat pretty much anything. 

Expanding the deer cull during every hunting season, and through nuisance permits, is the only sure way to reduce the numbers. While no one can give an accurate deer census, it’s clear there are thousands more than the land’s carrying capacity. Efforts in some East End communities to implement birth control for deer certainly haven’t made much of a dent in their population. And, whether they can reproduce or not, the deer are still there, carrying those ticks into your backyard.

We can’t estimate the cost of treating eastern Long Islanders for tick-borne diseases, but a good guess is that these costs are enormous. And every year, it seems, some new tick arrives on the North Fork, carrying another potentially crippling disease. The threat worsens, year after year, as the deer herd continues to grow.

At last Wednesday’s “Grappling with Ticks” panel discussion hosted by Times Review Media Group, several speakers addressed concerns about deer management. Two of them, Jeff Standish, Southold’s director of public works, and Craig Jobes, the town’s environmental analyst, covered a lot of ground about this ongoing problem.

Grappling with Ticks

One clear theme emerged: More land must be opened up for deer hunting. Virtually every available piece of town- and county-owned land is already hunted during the season. Many farms also allow hunters under state-licensed nuisance permits. Changes in state regulations now allow bow hunters within 150 feet of a residence; an earlier law set that limit at 500 feet.

These changes have produced higher cull numbers: 339 deer were taken in Southold during the 2018-19 season and through nuisance permits; just 70 were harvested in 2008. That’s good news. But it’s not enough.

To facilitate a larger and more effective cull, more private property has to be made available to hunters. Homeowners can get together and agree to allow hunters on their properties — and can arrange a cull through Mr. Standish’s office. A number of homeowners’ associations on the North Fork have done this and brought in private hunting groups to carry out the cull.

“With the town-owned land open to hunting, a number of areas in Southold have seen reductions in the herd,” Mr. Standish said. “What is needed now is more and more private properties to be opened to hunters, because that is where the deer are now concentrating.”

Yes, progress been made, and Southold Town has been at the forefront of pushing hard to open up land to hunters and reduce deer numbers. If one of the basic jobs of government is to keep people safe, then the town should be applauded for doing as much as it has, even though so much more has to be accomplished. 

The deer herd, and the tick-borne diseases that come with it, threaten our well-being. This can’t be denied. Homeowners’ associations — even just four or five homeowners in a neighborhood — need to join together and open up their property. Thousands of deer living so closely among us isn’t healthy.