The number of deer killed in Southold Town as part of the controversial federal cull that took place earlier this year was outpaced by the town’s own hunting program, said Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell.
He said the federal efforts involving U.S. Department of Agriculture-trained sharpshooters were hampered by lawsuits and opposition from animal-rights and hunting groups.
Official numbers on the results of the cull have not yet been released by the Long Island Farm Bureau, which coordinated the efforts. The organization’s executive director, Joe Gergela, did not return calls seeking comment and USDA spokespeople have been referring all calls to the farm bureau.
Mr. Russell said the town’s hunting program was a success in killing 265 deer on town lands this year, the USDA cull totals from about a dozen private properties in town were lower, although he could not give exact numbers.
“The cull had been severely hamstrung,” Mr. Russell said at a community association meeting in East Marion last Thursday. “There were groups out there that wanted to stop the cull and they were largely successful.
“The numbers [of deer killed] are going to be very low, I would say insignificant,” he added.
Opponents of the cull have called the USDA’s sharpshooter program — which involves baiting deer before shooting them, mostly at night — inhumane and a challenge to local hunter’s rights.
Mike Tessitore, president of the hunters-rights and conservation group Hunters for Deer, said he expected numbers for the cull to be low.
“It just goes to show you that hunters are not only a cheaper option but more effective,” he said.
The Long Island Farm Bureau, which had secured a $250,000 grant for the program, had lobbied all East End towns and villages last fall to contribute, asking for $25,000 from each town, including Brookhaven, and $15,000 from each village.
But the towns of Southampton, Riverhead and Shelter Island all eventually decided not to participate financially, leaving Southold as the only East End town to support the cull.
Yet sharpshooters did acquire permits to operate on private properties in Riverhead, Southold and Southampton towns, according to state Department of Environmental Conservation documents. In addition, Southold Town held its own hunting program on town-owned lands that were excluded from the cull.
Mr. Russell said Tuesday that the town will be refunded a portion of the $25,000 it paid the Long Island Farm Bureau, since the cull was minimized.
The effort was hampered in large part by a state Supreme Court decision in March that prevented the DEC from issuing any further deer hunting permits, essentially stopping the cull from expanding, Mr. Russell said.
Many of the private properties that had previously agreed to participate in the cull pulled out under pressure from the cull’s opponents, he added. Mr. Russell said the properties that remained were rendered practically unusable after hunters groups that opposed the cull — including Hunters for Deer — publicized the locations on social media and walked through the areas to disperse the deer.
But Mr. Tessitore said Tuesday that his group only posted photos of the locations, and took no steps to hamper cull activities there.
Those running the cull did attempt to “make the most” of the effort by donating thousands of pounds of venison to local food pantries, Mr. Russell said. But ultimately, he said, the cull was a disappointment.
“We have to do something here,” he said. “Deer are an economic crisis, deer are a public health crisis and believe it or not, deer are a huge environmental crisis. They’re devastating the ecosystem.”
Mr. Tessitore said in an interview that his group agreed that the deer population needed to be managed, but said federally managed culling is doing a job hunters could do for free with the right regulations.
“We want to make sure we have a good, healthy herd,” he said. “We want to protect our hunting opportunities but we also want to preserve the species … The DEC really needs to realize that hunting on Long Island needs to be regulated like a management tool, not a sport.”
Hunters for Deer was willing to work on a solution with those supporting the cull, he said. But he claims the organization was left out of the process; if the cull goes forward last this year, the group is resolved to continue to fight.
“We’re going to be more aggressive in our tactics next year,” Mr. Tessitore said. “We’re not going to be as passive.
“They’re not going to shove it down our throats like last time.”