01/12/14 10:00am
KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO  |

KATHARINE SCHROEDER FILE PHOTO |  The rise in deer population has become one of the biggest concerns for North Fork residents.

As a lifelong resident of the North Fork, I have witnessed the explosion of the deer population.

When I was growing up, it was rare to find deer tracks in fields or in the woods, but now it’s common to come across several deer in one’s backyard. Historically, populations of deer were dramatically lower than they are today, and we know that without natural predators and with plentiful food sources, deer populations can double in two to three years.

The agricultural industry, a critical part of the East End economy, has experienced millions of dollars of crop loss due to white-tailed deer. Farmers have spent thousands of dollars on deer fencing to protect crops; this is an expense most cannot afford. As a fourth generation farmer, I understand this all too well.

As a Suffolk County Legislator and a former Southold Town Councilman, I have spoken to hundreds of constituents whose lives have been seriously impacted by deer, whether it is by a tick-borne illness or a car accident or, as in some cases, both. I have walked through many acres of preserved open spaces and parks in my district and seen firsthand the destruction deer have done to the natural environment.

All efforts must be made to bring the population of white-tailed deer, which has reached crisis proportions in eastern Suffolk County, down to sustainable levels. The USDA sharpshooter program is one tool that can be employed to help achieve this goal and, at least in Southold Town, the community will utilize the program to decrease the herd size and protect human health, biodiversity and property.

This does not mean that there is unanimous support for culling the herd or that no controversy surrounds the program, but if the alternatives are considered objectively, the logical conclusion is that we need to act.

Tick-borne illnesses have cost millions of dollars in treatment and lost work and caused much pain and suffering. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reported almost 3,000 cases of Lyme disease in New York State in 2012, but it is believed the actual number is much greater due to misdiagnosis, inconclusive testing and underreporting. New York State has one of the highest incidences of tick-borne illnesses in the country and Suffolk County has one of the highest infection rates in the state.

Lyme disease is not the only tick-borne illness associated with deer. Others, such as Babesiosis, can be particularly harmful to people with compromised immune systems. In addition, tick-borne disorders unfamiliar to scientists are emerging, such as a potentially life-threatening red meat allergy that develops in some people bitten by lone star ticks.

The Suffolk County Tick Management Task Force concluded that “the issue of tick-borne disease is inextricably linked to deer overpopulation … Any strategy for tick control must reduce the number of deer and/or the number of ticks on deer to have any chance of success.”

Unchecked growth of the white-tailed deer population has devastated the natural environment and this will continue until we act to reduce the population to a sustainable level.

Conservationists and those who advocate for the protection of wildlife alike should support policies that cull the herd to protect habitat and biodiversity. In many areas deer have destroyed the woodland understory. Invasive plant species, like mile-a-minute vine, have taken over because beneficial native plants have been gobbled up by deer.

The insects, birds and other animals these native plants and ecosystems support are now threatened and have decreased in numbers. Some forests are so stripped they may not be able to regenerate.

The problems caused by white-tailed deer overpopulation are multi-faceted and costly. As a community, we need to make the hard choices and manage the herd to lessen the occurrence of disease, habitat destruction and property loss.

If you are concerned about the well-being of individual deer, perhaps you should stop driving, because hundreds are killed or maimed in car accidents yearly. It is not a pretty sight to see an animal writhing in pain after being hit but not killed.

The USDA program is conducted safely, professionally and humanely. The meat harvested is a good source of protein and will not go to waste but will be donated to food pantries and homeless shelters feeding many people in need on Long Island.

Al Krupski is a Suffolk County legislator whose district encompasses the North Fork. He lives in Cutchogue.

07/03/13 8:00am

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Farmer Phil Schmitt (left) and his sons Matt (center) and Phil Jr. loading boxes of cabbage onto a flatbed at the family’s Riverhead farm in 2011. Phil Schmitt says most food safety issues have come out of West Coast and large farm operations.

Land preservation does not pit farmland preservation against open space protection. It’s about hard work and a commitment to preserving the character of our community, towns, county and island for future generations. It’s about quality of life.

In the 1970s, Suffolk County led the way by starting the farmland preservation program. Why? Because the people had the foresight to realize the importance of agriculture to Suffolk County. The seal of the Suffolk County Legislature, symbolically, is a plow.

Over the years, the towns and county have borrowed and spent millions to achieve the goals of protecting open space and farmland. Open space was prioritized for scenic and recreational qualities and habitat and sensitive wetland areas also were protected. Acquiring a critical mass of land is crucial to the preservation of meaningful wildlife habitat. These areas also provide for the active and passive recreational activities and the access to the water that we all enjoy.

Farmland preservation is critically important and food production must not be trivialized as so few things are produced in this country. We all appreciate food quality and safety. Without active farmland we would have no choice but to become dependent on foreign nations for our food, which could be of questionable safety.

The value of locally produced food cannot be minimized. Fruits and vegetables picked at the prime of ripeness provide not only great flavor and meals, but also are at their peak of nutritional value. The health benefits of locally grown produce cannot be refuted.

My bill would not prioritize open space preservation over farmland protection, but rather give them equal footing. A benefit of farmland protection is that the government pays less per acre, doesn’t have to fence, clean or police the property and it stays on the tax rolls. The landowner is forever responsible for the stewardship.

Another goal of the legislation is to insure that the money spent is well spent. The Suffolk County Planning Department has a rating system in place for both farmland preservation and open space acquisition. The professional planners rate available parcels, and following their recommendations we should acquire the very best properties that reach a higher standard. The land should reach a certain threshold before the county invests in appraisals, etc. The designated portion of the Suffolk County Water Quality Protection money for acquisition has been heavily borrowed against leaving little to spend. Let’s make sure we preserve the highest quality open space and the best soils.

I’ll be happy to work with anyone and everyone to find a different funding source to continue the efforts to protect today’s land for tomorrow’s generation. My long record of land preservation in Southold, both in open space and farmland protection, tells the whole story.

My 28 years as an elected official have been spent saving both open space and farmland. I helped to make the difficult decisions about how to focus preservation efforts and prioritize spending our always limited resources. I look forward to bringing this commitment of preserving the best to the county level.

In 100 years my name and those in all the current and past preservation efforts will be forgotten. But the people who live on Long Island will benefit from and appreciate the hard work and resources that we used to preserve both open space and farmland.

Al Krupski is the Suffolk County legislator for the 1st District.