A hardy group of protesters gathered Friday outside Fire Island National Seashore headquarters in Patchogue to oppose a park service plan that would allow hunting to curtail the white-tailed deer population.
Holding signs reading “Hands off our wildlife,” “Not ours to kill” and “Oh deer, not me,” about two dozen people stood in frigid weather to discuss a deer management plan.
“It’s incredibly cruel and ineffective to be using hunting,” said John Di Leonardo, president and founder of Long Island Orchestrating for Nature, an animal advocacy group. “I think too often in our society, the government in particular, goes first to killing.”
Fire Island seashore officials say an estimated 300 deer live within park boundaries on the barrier island and at William Floyd Estate in Mastic Beach and the prodigious eaters threaten plants and shrubs, including a maritime holly forest that is one of only two in the world.
On Dec. 31, the park service published a 480-page plan to minimize the damage caused by the deer and reduce the population using a combination of hunting, approved birth control, education and fencing of sensitive areas. The plan awaits final approval.
Protesters said the national seashore is citing outdated deer population numbers that include animals that drowned during superstorm Sandy in 2012. Hunting is unnecessarily cruel and, protesters said, they believe only a form of birth control should be used to thin the herd.
“These animals are family-oriented and we have encroached on to their territory,” said protester Sharada Jayagopal, a retired physician from East Williston. “This is going to upset the ecosystem.”
The outspoken group wants the seashore to use a immunocontraceptive vaccine, one administered as part of a 1993 to 2009 research project on Fire Island in which community groups and the Humane Society of United States used darts to inject female deer with a form of contraception. “It worked really well on my end — the East End,” said Marija Beqaj, a project volunteer and current president of Fire Island Wildlife Foundation.
The park service plan is “killing all the deer — from one end of the beach to the other,” she said.
Seashore park ranger Elizabeth Rogers said the program Beqaj cited used a drug not approved by either the state or the Environmental Protection Agency but was allowed as part of the research.
What is favored by the protesters “is not available to us as a tool,” she said.