After months of debate and a failed lawsuit filed by opponents of the plan, a deer cull kicked off this week across multiple private properties on eastern Long Island, as parcels in Southold, Riverhead and Southampton have received state approval for the hunt.
A source familiar with the operation said the sharpshooters started working Riverhead Monday.
A U.S. Department of Agriculture spokeswoman said only that the cull “started this week. That’s all we can say, because we are not the lead on this.”
She referred a reporter’s request for details to the Long Island Farm Bureau.
“They’re the one’s responsible for releasing all the information. At the end of the project, they will release all the final numbers,” said the spokeswoman, Tanya Espinosa.
Requests for comment from LIFB executive director Joe Gergela were not immediately returned.
Last fall, the LIFB lobbied all East End towns and villages to contribute up to $25,000 each to participate in the regional deer cull, for which the organization received $250,000 in grant funding.
Under the original plan, the USDA — the federal agency hired to thin the herd — was going to kill 2,400 to 3,000 deer across the East End. However after a few of towns opted not to participate, and East Hampton Town and Village both backed out in recent weeks, Southold was the only municipality left to contribute to the program.
USDA officials later reduced the amount the deer to be killed to about 1,000.
Days after Southold approved a measure to kick in $25,000, opponents of the plan filed suit against the town. However a State Supreme Court Judge ruled against halting the plan, a decision Wendy Chamberlain, founder of the Wildlife Coalition of Eastern Long Island, called “heartbreaking.”
A spokeswoman for the Department of Environmental Conservation said that the state agency — which needs to approve permits on properties where the cull will be carried out — has so far issued 12 deer damage permits for the East End deer cull with another six permits pending. The permits are valid from Feb. 1 through March 31.
Requests for comment from Southold Supervisor Scott Russell and Southold Police Chief Martin Flatley were not immediately returned.