Guest Blog: Carl Safina Overlooks Humane Alternatives to Deer Culls

deer in southampton
Photo credit: Christopher Broich

Editor’s Note: Bill Crain of the East Hampton Group for Wildlife writes in response to Carl Safina’s op-ed for regarding deer culls.

Carl Safina, a well-known author of books on the sea and an East Hampton resident, has written about the proposed deer culls on Eastern Long Island. Safina doesn’t take a firm position on the culls, but he says that humans have allowed deer populations “to explode without check” and implies that there are no humane alternatives.

Safina overlooks four points. First, scientific surveys indicate that the deer population has actually declined in East Hampton. Perhaps deer are very abundant in other East End towns, but there is a need for reliable data.

Second, Safina accepts East Hampton Planning Director Marguerite Wolffson’s view that fertility control doesn’t work in free-ranging deer populations. Actually, immunocontraception, which has proven effective in enclosed areas such as Fire Island, hasn’t really been tried in free-ranging populations. Hastings-on-Hudson has begun an immunocontraception program with its free-ranging deer, and the results will give us important new information.

Third, Safina accepts the outdated view that deer population size is associated with Lyme disease, overlooking the fact that researchers haven’t found a statistical association. Most experts now believe that reducing the size of a deer population will not affect the incidence of Lyme disease because the disease-carrying ticks will feed on other animals. (See R.S.Ostfeld, Lyme Disease, Oxford University Press, 2011.)

Fourth, Safina agrees with Wolffson’s position that deer are destroying vegetation and habitats for other species. However, Larry Penny, an esteemed local naturalist, disputes this view. And, in any case, we need more research to determine precisely what damage is caused by deer, as opposed to human actions such as pesticide use and extensive real-estate development.

Safina’s essay expresses some humane sentiments, but he too readily accepts the views of groups and officials who promote the killing of deer.

Bill Crain
East Hampton Group for Wildlife

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