OA hosted a meeting on deer management at Poquatuck Hall. 60 – 70 Orient residents came to listen and share their thoughts. Supervisor Scott Russell led the meeting and was joined by several Councilmen and Trustee John Bredemeyer. Here are highlights of what we heard:
The North Fork can sustain about 15 deer per square mile. Right now, there are as many as 65 per square mile and the population is growing. They have no predators here, unless you count humans with cars and guns.
As we know only too well, the consequences of this over-population are far too many cases of Lyme Disease and other tick borne illnesses; far too many traffic accidents involving deer, including deaths; more and more tall deer fences going up around fields to keep deer off the crops; and more and more deer wandering through people’s yards nibbling on whatever they think tastes good. As food supplies dwindle, they will nibble on things they don’t like too.
As we did not know or realize, our woodlands and wild areas are being destroyed as well. We heard the phrase: “EcoSlums” to describe what Dam Pond and other beloved areas are becoming. Deer eat much of the undergrowth and most of the new saplings popping up. They eat wild flowers. Other wild life that live in the woodlands are suffering. Invasive plant species the deer don’t like get to grow and grow.
The deer are suffering. When deer are under stress, the females cease to give birth to fawns and the bucks shed their antlers. That’s happening.
The web of laws surrounding hunting — put together for good reasons many years ago — make it impossible for hunters to cull the herds enough to make a significant difference.
Sterilizing deer is really expensive and traumatic for the deer. They have to be caught, bound, operated on and then sent back into the wild. Special feeding stations that deliver tick pesticides are also expensive. They do reduce the tick population on individual deer but do nothing to reduce accidents and damage to the environment.
So what to do?
The US Department of Agriculture has developed a special program in which sharp shooters are brought in to cull deer populations in much higher numbers than regular hunting can do. A lot of us are not at all happy about this suggestion but we are increasingly aware that we must find a way to seriously reduce current herds to smaller, sustainable levels. Then hunting and some of the other measures might be able to work. Southold Town has put $70,000 into the budget to help fund this program and the Farm Bureau is contributing about $200,000. They realize that the necessary deer fences for farmers don’t solve the problem; they just give the deer even less space to move around and forage in.