PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Southold Supervisor Scott Russell addresses the crowd at Saturday’s deer management meeting in Orient.
A sharpshooting program is in the works to cull the North Fork’s rising deer population, town officials and volunteers said at a deer management forum in Orient Saturday morning.
Don Stewart with the North Fork Deer Management Alliance volunteer group said he is hopeful the program — which uses teams of skilled marksmen to eliminate dozens of deer at a time — will begin next month.
The sharp shooter program is run through the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services department, and will be paid for in part by a $200,000 grant secured by the Long Island Farm Bureau. The five East End Towns will have an opportunity to pay their own funds into the program, Mr. Stewart said.
About 50 people attended the forum held at Poquatuck Hall in Orient, the second Town meeting on deer control this fall after more than 200 people crowded into a forum in Peconic in September.
By aggressively cutting down the deer population, Mr. Stewart said, the North Fork will see less environmental damage from deer grazing, fewer tick-borne illnesses and will reduce deer-related car accidents.
While hunting by locals is a valuable part of deer management, it would not cause the “radical reduction” necessary on its own to bring the deer to manageable levels, Mr. Stewart said.
Other so-called humane approaches, like sterilization or contraception techniques, are more complex than they seem and would not do enough to limit the deer population, he added.
“At best its only going to keep an unacceptably high level of deer from expanding further,” Mr. Stewart said. “You’re not going to bring these levels down to where you need it.”
Having sharpshooters pick off dozens of deer seems cruel, he said, but it’s better than having hunters who might miss their shots do the bulk of the culling.
“You [won't] have animals that are wounded walking around the countryside,” he said.
The Town of Southold has taken steps to make it easier for hunters to tag deer, like waiving fees on carcasses and opening up town land to hunters. But town officials said private land owners need to open up their properties to hunters. Otherwise the deer will simply move to safer areas and continue to reproduce.
Supervisor Scott Russell had said state regulations on hunting have limited the town’s efforts so far. Hunters are not allowed to hunt within 500 feet of structures, including sheds.
Mr. Russell said the law is designed for rural areas like upstate New York, but doesn’t account for the denser population on the North Fork.
Speaker Sherry Thomas said the deer population will reach catastrophic levels soon if proactive steps are not taken. While deer management officials say there should be no more than 15 deer per square mile, the North Fork has about 65 per square mile, she said.
If nothing is done to stop the deer population explosion, there could be an estimated 400 deer per square mile in the next 10 years, Ms. Thomas said.
“It’s only going to go from unsustainable to disastrous,” she said.