D-Day for deer deferred

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D-Day for deer deferred

Story By: LIZ FINNEGAN
2/21/2019


FIRE ISLAND—At the beginning of last week, the National Park Service announced that it would be putting the Fire Island White-tailed Deer Management Plan that was approved in April 2016 into effect. That entailed preparing to implement “deer removal operations” beginning Feb. 20 through March 31 at the William Floyd Estate in Mastic Beach, which is part of the Fire Island National Seashore. However, on Friday, Feb. 15, the conservation watchdog based in Washington, D.C., Animal Welfare Institute and Wildlife Preserves Inc., which had previously filed a joint lawsuit against FINS with Wildlife Preserves Inc. for the same reasons, responded to that announcement by filing a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to halt the planned deer kill.

D.J. Schubert, a biologist who works for AWI, said the action was an important step to take.

“Over the course of litigation, there were multiple requests from both sides to extend the deadline,” he said, adding that the groups began hearing rumors in January about FINS taking action.

“We were troubled,” Schubert said. “We thought we had an agreement with them.” He noted that they received word from the government entity only weeks ago that the reason for the change in plans was due to a change in circumstances.

“They did not explain what that change was,” he said.

The battle for deer control between conservation groups, Fire Island residents and FINS has been ongoing. This newspaper covered the issue of a possible hunt being discussed in a number of articles: “FINS deer management plan sparks ire” (Feb. 4, 2016), “FI deer management plan approved” (May 19, 2016), “No plans in place for FI deer” (Sept. 8, 2016) and “FINS lawsuit” (Dec. 7, 2017).

The most recent article reported on claims that then-FINS superintendent Christopher Soller, who has since retired, was in violation of deed restrictions on property donated to the government in order to protect the natural habitat of wildlife there. They said the NPS-approved plan that includes fencing, violates that agreement. However, the groups are vehemently opposed to the killing of deer to control the population on Fire Island and elsewhere.

Alex Romero, the current FINS superintendent, released a statement saying, “The goal of this effort is to provide a healthy habitat for all plants and animals, and to preserve the historic landscape of the William Floyd Estate,” noting also that white-tailed deer have depleted native trees and shrubs, making it difficult for that species to regenerate. “Without intervention, there is little hope for these habitats to recover from the impacts of an overabundance of deer,” he added. The plan involves enlisting federal employees that are qualified firearms experts to carry out the culling at a time the estate is closed to the public.

 However, the wildlife groups claim that there are other more humane methods of culling the deer population, which FINS seems to be ignoring. They refer to a method known as immunocontraception that was used successfully between 1995 and 2009. The contraceptive porcine zona pellucida, delivered through darts, had been carried out with the help of civilian volunteers during that time with success. 

“I give FINS credit for [implementing] that program,” said Schubert. “It was quite successful with a 58 percent decline [in population]. But they inexplicably stopped. It was unconscionable for them to stop the program. So now they decided to go with the slaughter option.” He noted that since that time, there are more advanced, longer-lasting contraceptives available that are being ignored.  “This is just amazing,” he remarked.

A FINS spokesperson, Elizabeth Rogers, said the previous fertility control was part of a large research project that ended. The goal had been to provide ideal density, which is 20-25 deer per square mile. The information was studied and put into the management plan that was approved in 2016. 

“The study showed mixed results,” Rogers said, noting that it was successful in some areas, but not in others. “It doesn’t get us up to the [desired] balance. It could take 10 or more years to reach that [population] goal.”

Funding for a three-year culling plan has been approved, but thus far money has only been secured for the William Floyd Estate. Rogers said if the money is secured for the next two years, the deer removal operation will be held at both William Floyd Estate and Fire Island next year and only on Fire Island the third and last year.

As of this printing, all parties are awaiting a judge’s decision on whether or not to move forward.