An overpopulation of white-tailed deer is fueling vehicle crashes and tick-borne illnesses such as Lyme disease, and they’re eating crops — an issue that has reached crisis proportions on the North Fork, according to East End elected officials.
Officials are hoping to expand a New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC)-managed Deer Management Pilot Program in the Town of Southold that uses hunters to cull the herd, although the practice has proven controversial among animal rights activists. But officials say the ticks are also on the rise due to the uptick in deer.
“We’re facing a real crisis of health and safety as a result of this deer overpopulation,” said state Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio (R-Riverhead). “Through the Deer Management Pilot Program, we hope to set an example for how other municipalities throughout New York State can herd their deer populations and keep both these animals and residents safe. I’m grateful to all my state and local partners for committing to this collaboration, and I eagerly await seeing the benefits the community will receive from this policy.”
White-tailed deer that roam the East End and the eastern portions of the up-island region have long been targeted by officials seeking to curb the spread of Lyme. Officials have previously deployed the 4-poster program in which wild deer are doused with tickicide when they stick their heads in special feeder boxes installed in wooded areas. But deer culls have also been used. The Southold pilot program has recorded more than 3,100 “harvests” that donated more than 62,000 pounds of venison since 2008, according to the Town of Southold. Past deer culls have sparked protests locally and up-island.
Besides people contracting Lyme disease, officials say the other immediate concern is the number of deer continuing to cross dangerous and busy roads such as the Long Island Expressway. Traffic collisions are a greater threat for all Long Islanders as long as the deer population is not controlled.
“The overpopulation of white-tailed deer on Eastern Long Island threatens public health, public safety, personal property, the agricultural economy and the environment. New policies to reduce and control the deer population are needed to supplement steps that have already been taken to foster hunting opportunities,” said state Assemblyman Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor). “The legislation establishing this Deer Management Pilot Program for the Town of Southold will provide new tools to address this issue by promoting collaboration between local authorities and the Department of Environmental Conservation, consistent with the State Deer Management Plan, while still ensuring public safety.
The deer also pose a threat to the agricultural industry that is a central component of the economy on the North Fork.
“If enacted, this would represent a major step forward in managing the deer population in Southold at sustainable levels, and I believe it would positively affect our environment by protecting woodlands from over browsing, decrease the number of tick-borne illnesses, reduce the number of car accidents involving deer and protect crops and private property,” said Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupksi (D-Cutchogue), a farmer whose district includes Southold town.
State Sen. Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk), whose district includes the entire East End, said he backs the effort.
“Deer overpopulation is a major concern in the 1st Senate District and throughout Long Island. Deer are responsible for millions of dollars in crop loss each year, cause traffic accidents and car damage and help spread debilitating tick-borne illnesses like Lyme Disease,” he said. “Our legislation to create a deer management pilot program in Southold can be a first step in addressing this serious issue on the East End and act as a guide for funding and initiatives to support our farmers, and help control the region’s deer population.”
Southold has a long history of working with the NYS DEC on deer management issues, and this pilot program, based on the DEC’s own recommendations, could serve as a template for Suffolk County and the entire state, officials added.
“We have a world-class deer management program in Southold Town but it’s just not enough to get the herd under control,” said Southold Town Board Member Greg Doroski. “This is a public health, public safety, environmental and economic crisis. The strategies outlined by the state experts at the DEC will give us the necessary tools we need to get the herd to a safe and sustainable level.”
Southold Town Supervisor Scott A. Russell agreed.
“I want to thank our state and county elected officials and all of our partners for working so hard to create a pilot deer management program,” he said. “The East End had unique challenges that require unique solutions. This pilot project, I believe, will be successful and will serve as a template for other programs.”