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Island hunters given sole responsibility to cull deer herd

REPORTER FILE PHOTO | New statistics are in on deer hunting.
REPORTER FILE PHOTO | New statistics are in on deer hunting.

This winter a loud debate has raged all around Shelter Island, which so far seems untouched by the sound and fury.

The subject is deer management, a term that means reducing the number of deer in communities. Deer cause traffic accidents, spread serious illness, gobble up private plantings and decimate businesses associated with farming and landscaping — up to $5 million annually in the five East End Towns, according to the Long Island Farm Bureau.

What has brought the situation to a boil is the employment of trained United States Department of Agriculture sharp shooters who will be permitted to hunt at night, bait deer and use noise-suppressed rifles while culling the herd. Lawsuits by animal rights groups and hunter organizations — who want the same hunting options as the sharpshooters — along with rallies and protests on the South fork have added fuel to the controversy.

Southold will be using the federal marksmen beginning as early as next week and East Hampton officials seem poised to bring in the sharpshooters. It will cost Southold Town $25,000 and the Long Island Farm Bureau $200,000. The Farm Bureau had asked other East End towns and villages to sign on, however several municipalities, including Riverhead and Shelter Island, have so far opted out.

But the idea of employing sharpshooters is off the table here with the town deer management program, headed by Police Chief Jim Read, depending on recreational hunters to cull the herd.

So far the number of deer killed on the Island has stayed relatively flat compared with last year. As of Monday, about 100 hunters have been out at the Mashomack Preserve this season and have taken 79 deer, according to Mike Scheibel, the preserve’s natural resources manager. Over the same period last year, 72 deer were taken at Mashomack.

On town-owned land, 69 deer were taken as of Monday by 21 hunters in the town’s deer management program, according to Jennifer Zacca, a member of the Deer and Tick Committee and a police department employee. For the same period last year, 82 deer were taken.

It’s difficult to count how many deer have been killed on private property, but Ms. Zacca said this year hunters have been asked to report on deer they’ve taken in these locations. So far, that number is 57, Ms. Zacca said, but cautioned that it’s a conservative number.

There have been bonuses offered to spur hunting and an extension of so-called “nuisance hunting.”

Nuisance hunting helps communities overrun with deer by allowing special permits, also known as nuisance licenses, issued by the New York State Department of Conservation. Those qualifying for the special licenses are individual property owners, for example, or municipalities, who can then designate an agent to hunt outside the general hunting season.

The nuisance season will run from February 1 through March 31.

Deer caused 36 motor vehicle accidents on Shelter Island in 2013, according to police reports. That’s the most for any year since 2008.  As of January 23, four deer have caused accidents in the new year.