Police Chief Read James Read reported to the Town Board work session Tuesday on the “nuisance hunting” program, which allows hunters to apply for special licenses to cull the deer herd.
In 2006, when nuisance hunting kicked off, 478 deer were taken. But that became a steady decline over the years with 222 deer killed in 2012.
There were many variables in the decrease of deer taken in the program since 2006, Chief Read said, including, among others, weather and hunters not having as much time as in the past.
The number of nuisance hunters who have taken at least one deer has dropped dramatically in the past six years, Chief Read said. In 2006, 24 hunters qualified, but that number fell sharply to only seven last year.
Mike Scheibel, natural resources manager at Mashomack, said this could mean the deer population has decreased, but there was another factor that he described as “scary. There is one individual who is essentially the deer management program.”
Mr. Scheibel noted that six of the seven nuisance hunters registered last year took only two deer each, for a total of 12, while the other hunter killed the rest of the 222.
Taking deer at that level requires a lot of time and effort and in the future he may not always be hunting year-to-year, Mr. Scheibel said.
“Someone has to address this because he’s your entire deer management program,” he added.
There are other programs to consider, including U.S. Department of Agriculture sharp shooters who come into communities and cull deer herds, which Southold uses. Mr. Scheibel said these hunters use silencers and the USDA handles everything from legal issues to community education.
Councilman Ed Brown said the issue should be discussed when the budget for next year is put together. “I have concerns that one guy is doing the management,” he said. “I’d hate to see this number [of deer taken] cut in half again.”
Mr. Scheibel said there was some evidence that the deer herd at Mashomack was down “a little,” based on what he described as “vegetation impact,” and “that’s the good news.”
It’s extremely difficult to get an accurate figure on the deer herd Island-wide, Chief Read said, and then presented some data on road kill. In 2000 there were 74 motor vehicle accidents involving deer, which has dropped to 27 recorded in 2012. The chief found it interesting that after the high figure in 2000, the number dropped sharply to 28 the following year and then “flatlined,” never going higher than 35 or lower than 23 for the following years. But the chief cautioned that he wasn’t saying there are less deer on the Island.
Mr. Brown said he understood deer might be shifting to different areas. But recently “a block from my house it was like going through a video game.”
Supervisor Jim Dougherty said that action should be taken. “Tick disease, 4-posters, deer population have climbed back,” the supervisor said, after problems “went into hibernation. We took advantage of that, but it’s coming to fruition again. We have to come to grips with it.”