The National Park Service has given final approval to a Fire Island National Seashore plan that includes fencing off areas, hunting and possibly administering birth control to reduce white-tailed deer populations and protect native vegetation.
The plan, signed late last week, focuses on protecting, preserving and restoring native habitats while maintaining and monitoring a healthy deer population.
Seashore officials say they are bound to protect areas that are culturally significant while also protecting wildlife. “Wildlife management is difficult and we’re trying to find a balance as best we can,” Fire Island National Seashore wildlife biologist Lindsay Ries said. “We’re protecting these areas for deer and actually for a lot of wildlife who depend on these areas for their own survival.”
When the Seashore was established in 1964, there were small numbers of white-tailed deer. But as the communities grew, landscaping flourished, food sources increased and the population expanded. The constant grazing threatens plants and shrubs, including the Sunken Forest, home to a maritime holly forest that is one of only two in the world.
The management plan places an initial emphasis on enhanced monitoring and education efforts about deer-human interactions — how feeding can make deer more likely to approach humans, forage in garbage and be more social. The presence of tick-borne diseases is also a concern, the document said.
It also calls for about 44 acres of fencing around the Sunken Forest Preserve and surrounding areas. Another 80 acres at William Floyd Estate in Mastic Beach will also be fenced off. The fencing, up to about 10 feet tall, will have gates for visitors and mesh large enough for small animals to move freely about.
During construction deer will be moved from the areas but once fencing is complete, deer found inside will be hunted or captured and euthanized.
In other federal park areas, deer will be targeted to reduce the density of the animals to about 20 to 25 per square mile. The park could get to that number in one to two years if “65 percent of the population is initially targeted for removal,” the plan said.
Only park service employees or contractors will be allowed to hunt, which will likely occur between dusk and dawn and during fall and winter months when tourism is lower. Lead-free ammunition will be used.
Deer management actions are mostly subject to funding, and the Seashore plans to file in December for $1.8 million to install the fencing. Funding to reduce deer numbers will also be requested but cost estimates have not been finalized, Ries said.
Fire Island Association president Suzy Goldhirsch said the final plan tweaked language to ensure deer are removed only at the request of a property owner in coordination with the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which regulates hunting in New York.
“In my mind it’s progress,” she said. “It emphasizes the desire of the park to find accommodation with the developed communities and their concerns about sharpshooting, hunting and killing within their communities.”
If forms of contraception get proper permitting from state and federal officials, the plan allows for that to be used to control the population. Public hunting would also be considered in the wilderness area during hunting season, but plans have not been finalized.