Deer Management Plan May Finally Be Here

It’s been 70 years since Disney’s Bambi endeared itself to audiences worldwide, though most people would have been stumped in a recent New York Times crossword puzzle when asked about a Bambi villain (his Aunt Ena). Which is as much to say that no one exactly remembers the movie or knows the 1923 Austrian novel by Felix Salten that prompted it, Bambi: A Life in the Woods. For sure, though, Bambi has become the watchword of anti-hunting advocates.

Though hunting is one recognized way of attempting to control the exploding deer population on the East End, as elsewhere, the shout “Bambi killer” easily informs debates about how best to go about culling herds, even as data show a dramatic decrease in East Hampton in the number of hunters holding permits for either guns or bows. They’re also being killed in greater numbers on the road (“predation by automobile”), hardly a “compassionate” or “effective” short- or long-term solution, East Hampton Town Councilman Dominick Stanzione points out.

The situation is certainly not new on the East End, but became critical enough by February 2010 that the councilman called a Deer Summit to focus on the problem, which led to the formation of a Deer Management Working Group (DMWG), a task force of 35 individuals representing federal, state, town, village, county, public and private entities. The result of their work is a position paper, “A Proposal for Management of the White-tailed Deer Population in East Hampton Town,” a draft of which is dated October 18, 2012.

The plan reflects DMWG’s inquiry into best practices along the Eastern seaboard, and will be the subject of a public hearing scheduled for December 6. If passed by the state, having been vetted through the State Environmental Quality Review Act, the plan would be the first comprehensive and coordinated attempt to reconcile disparate points of view and to recommend action to reduce the deer population to “sustainable levels.”

Although hunting remains a significant part of the plan, Stanzione points to a schematic that shows how DMWG sees results five years hence. Lines marked “lethal” and “non-lethal,” now widely separated, are shown converging into narrow center parallels, meaning that “lethal” goes way down while “non-lethal” goes way up. Although “non-lethal” sounds promising to some because it would embrace options other than hunting, the councilman notes that the “non-lethal” category includes deer that die by starvation, auto accidents or disease—hardly desirable methods, and costly ones.

Gathering accurate data—as of now, anecdote and approximation rule—is an important part of the DMWG proposal. The new plan calls for a review of the kinds of land now used for hunting, with an eye toward modification and coordination; for the establishment of a hunters’ contact list; and for the dissemination of guidelines as to how hunters can donate meat to local food pantries.

Other proposed considerations would affect hunters who use bows (for bow hunters, the season runs from October 1 to December 1, while the gun season extends into January—and gun hunters are picked by lottery). Current rules call for a bow hunter to be at least 500 feet from a house; this plan would reduce that distance to 250 feet. Another “critical component” has to do with getting an accurate count of herds. This determination would be effected, says Stanzione, by fly-overs to estimate the population, year by year, for three years ($50K has already been allocated for Infra-red Aerial Deer Counting). The count would include tagged deer undergoing birth control. These deer are off-limits to hunters, but as one hunter points out, if birth control means chemicals, one wouldn’t want to have these in a food supply anyway.

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