The Southold Town Board is is expected to approve an environmental review tonight, a move that will allow a cull of the North Fork deer population to move forward in the coming weeks.
After much blowback, East Hampton Town abandoned its plans for a cull in 2014, putting off the proposal for at least a year. However, Southold Supervisor Scott Russell said last week that he is confident a cull will come to his town soon.
With an estimated density of 68 deer per square mile, the total population of deer in Southold is pegged around 5,000.
Russell calls the overpopulation of deer an environmental crisis that is devastating to the ecosystem. It is also an economic crisis for East End farmers whose crops are destroyed, and a public health risk due to deer-versus-vehicle accidents and the spread of tick-borne diseases, he added. “We’re at a tipping point and something needs to be done.”
He said that the U.S. Department of Agriculture is currently canvassing Southold to determine where the most deer are and to get permission of private property owners to hunt on their land. While a specific time the cull will start has not been determined, Russell said it should be around mid-February.
The USDA has been enlisted to bring in federal sharpshooters to reduce the deer population, targeting does and donating the meat to food pantries.
“The community’s demanding action,” Russell said. “It’s the only option that’s on the table at this point—the only feasible option.”
The Southold Town Board appropriated $25,000 toward the cull when it adopted its budget back in November. The rest of the cost is to be covered through a grant secured by the Long Island Farm Bureau.
Russell said that the last figure he was given was 1,000 total deer culled, though he said that target may change now that East Hampton Town pulled out of the cull. “There’s goals and then there’s reachable goals,” he noted.
He considers this first year a pilot, and said that if the cull is successful he would repeat it each year indefinitely. He is also in favor of the state easing hunting restrictions so local hunters may help reduce the population.
While there is modest opposition to the cull within Southold, most residents have gotten behind the rallying cry, “Do something!” Russell said.
The East Hampton Group for Wildlife is encouraging supporters to write to Russell in opposition to the cull.