The East Hampton Town Board once again discussed deer management at a work session Tuesday, agreeing, it seemed, that an initial assessment of the numbers of deer would be needed before the town could set goals and judge the effectiveness of any reduction program it might adopt.
The effort to create a management plan has been led by Councilman Dominick Stanzione, who worked with a citizens committee to outline strategies. In the meantime, the East Hampton Group for Wildlife has sent the board its own management proposals, in a report titled “Deer: A Humane Plan.” The group opposes culling by any lethal means and believes that “with some ingenuity, the town can address perceived problems through non-lethal means.”
“If herd reduction is the highest priority,” Councilman Stanzione said Tuesday, “then using professional cullers is the best route.” Local hunters could be involved, he said, but additional help would be needed to achieve a 50-percent reduction in the herd over three years, as has been suggested. Taking exception to that route, the wildlife group cites “the moral value of adopting non-lethal strategies.”
In considering how to get a handle on the size of the town’s deer population, the board discussed an aerial survey that would provide the data required by the United States Department of Agriculture should the town decide to hire its sharpshooters to cull the herd. It also would provide details about concentrations and movements of deer. It would cost more, however, than a data sampling method.
Other aspects of a management plan under consideration are actions that might help reduce the number of deer, such as opening for hunting additional public lands that the town co-owns for this year’s season, opening the January shotgun-hunting season to nonresidents, and amendments to state and local laws that could facilitate a larger deer take. In addition, Mr. Stanzione said, the board might consider revisions to local laws about deer fences, with an eye toward preserving wildlife corridors and vistas.
The board will continue its review of the draft plan at an upcoming work session. Once any desired revisions are made, a final draft will be the subject of a hearing.
The purpose of a new deer census would be not only to determine the size of the herd but to provide information about where deer most frequently cross highways so the town can focus efforts to reduce collisions.
In its report to the board, which was delivered last week, the wildlife group said a 2006 study had estimated 3,239 deer in town, or about 51 deer per square mile, noting that the figures were “somewhat higher than wildlife managers generally prefer in the eastern United States, but not alarmingly high.”
In addition, the group said, the deer were deemed at that time to be in good health. However, Marguerite Wolffsohn, the town planning director, told the town board on Tuesday that those numbers should instead be 20 to 40 deer per square mile.
The Group for Wildlife plan urges the town to “maintain a creative, research-oriented attitude” toward a pilot immunocontraceptive program.
“At first glance it would seem to be simple to reduce a deer population: Just expand hunting. But researchers have documented a rebound effect: Deer give birth to more fawns after hunts,” according to the report, which includes citations of scientific studies.
Other initiatives that the town should pursue, according to the Group for Wildlife, are a slow-driving campaign and the evaluation of the efficacy of roadside reflectors designed to discourage deer from crossing a road when there is an oncoming vehicle. After a trial conducted by the group in 2008 along Stephen Hand’s Path in East Hampton showed “very promising” results, more reflectors were installed last year. They are now on 1.2 miles of roadway, and an analysis of the results is anticipated by the end of this year. “If the reflectors prove effective, the town board should encourage private residents and groups to fund expanded installations,” the report states.
The alternative plan also suggests discouraging deer fencing on residential properties and promoting deer-resistant plantings. “Attention to plants,” the plan says, is important because “deer populations strongly vary with food resources, and large new homes often have lavish gardens that increase the deer population beyond what it otherwise would be.”
Noting that hunting is allowed in many of the town’s designated nature preserves, the report says wildlife sanctuaries should be established. According to the report, sanctuaries would reduce the pressure on deer “to seek safety in the no-hunting residential areas,” as well as stress that might trigger increased births. The report also recommends an objective study of the extent of damage to the woodland understory and the extent to which deer are responsible, as well as developing recommendations for how to alleviate the problem.
As for Lyme disease, the Group for Wildlife suggests that the town do more to educate the public about how to avoid tick bites and to prohibit the hunting of turkeys, which eat immature ticks. Because Lyme disease is also spread by ticks that feed on the white-footed mouse, the report says, “it’s unlikely that any reduction of deer populations can alleviate the disease.” While some species of female ticks feed on a second mammalian host, such as deer, the report says, if deer were eliminated, the ticks would feed on other animals such as raccoons and opossums.
The report also states that two recent studies show that “four-poster” stations, where deer are exposed to tick-killing chemicals, reduced ticks by 69 to 100 percent. The wildlife group suggests the town look into the use of bait-boxes for mice that would distribute similar chemicals.
The Group for Wildlife report concludes that a nonlethal method of reducing the deer population is “an approach that reflects compassion and respect for other living beings.”