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Town Aims to Opt Out of May Turkey Hunt

Thu, 02/16/2023 - 11:08
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has added a new May turkey hunting season.
Carissa Katz

The East Hampton Town Board is set to opt out of a new opportunity for hunters in Suffolk County to shoot turkeys in the month of May — if there’s time.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation announced the new turkey hunting season in August. Under the new D.E.C. guidelines, Suffolk County hunters will be able to shoot one male turkey per day, from a half-hour before sunrise until noon. 

Several speakers came before the town board during its work session on Tuesday to decry the plan, with one hunting proponent, Terry O’Riordan of the East Hampton Sportsmens Alliance, speaking in favor of East Hampton opting in. (The D.E.C. typically permits turkey hunting in October and November, and for two youth-focused days in April.) Mr. O’Riordan stressed the town’s hunting traditions and the need to “harvest” the birds because, “for many reasons, according to the D.E.C., the population has reached a point where it’s harmful to the local ecosystem.”

After nearly disappearing from Suffolk County, he noted, wild turkeys have flourished in recent years.

In announcing the new hunting opportunity last August, D.E.C. Commissioner Basil Seggos said the wild turkey population on Long Island had grown “to more than 3,000 birds” since the 1990s, thanks to statewide efforts to manage and restore their population.

“This new regulation,” he said, “will increase opportunities for New York turkey hunters and supports ongoing effective management of this game bird.”

Bill Crain of the East Hampton Group for Wildlife provided the board with four reasons to opt out of the spring turkey hunting season: Public safety is paramount, he said, but also people love seeing the turkeys in their natural habitat. He said the turkeys provide service to the town by eating lots of ticks, and that the birds should be “respected as sentient beings. They have many emotions.”

That last comment drew applause from a pro-turkey crowd that had gathered at Town Hall. Betsy Petroski further noted that when the D.E.C. announced the additional month of turkey hunting, it did not cite overpopulation or declare that this was a “nuisance hunt” to cull the animals.

Ms. Petroski also said the timing could not be worse — not only because of the increased presence of people and their four-legged pets in May, but that springtime is when turkey hens are resting on their eggs and are at their most vulnerable.

Turkey hunting is considered a “passive” activity where the predator (in this case, a human with a bow and arrow or shotgun) sits in the weeds and uses a female turkey-call device to lure in a bearded tom.

The hunting activity creates “trauma on gangs of turkey,” said Ms. Petroski, declaring the hunting of the bird to be unnecessary and inhumane. She also asked that the town rescind its approval for the two-day youth turkey hunt that takes place annually in April that is also sanctioned by the D.E.C.

Town Councilwoman Cate Rogers, who heads up the board’s wildlife management committee, told her colleagues that even as the D.E.C. opened turkey hunting across the county for the month of May, the Suffolk County Department of Parks and the New York State Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation agency have already signaled that they wouldn’t allow hunting on land they control in East Hampton — though they could change course by May.

Ms. Rogers also argued that, contrary to Mr. O’Riordan’s conjecture, the D.E.C. had not established the need, via a study, for the enhanced hunting opportunity that would be based on the birds’ eclipsing a so-called “turkey carrying capacity” in the county.

While county and state park agencies have already opted out in the six months since Mr. Seggos’s announcement, the town board now finds itself against a hard deadline as it struggles over how it might pass an opt-out resolution in time for May 1, given the compressed time frame to publicize and then hold a public hearing, prepare and vote on a resolution, and send it to Albany for review and approval, which generally takes a month.

The resolution would ban hunting on town property but would not address turkey hunting on private land.  

“It’s tight,” said Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez.


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