Hunters and animal rights activists stood side by side in East Hampton Saturday, protesting a plan to kill as many as 3,000 deer on the East End of Long Island during a 40-day span starting in February.
The two groups have become strange bedfellows in their effort to stop the $200,000 state-funded project to cull the deer population using federal sharpshooters before it starts. Among the more than 200 people at the rally, the allies found common ground as they held their protest on Newtown Lane.
"For the first time you're able to see animal activists and hunters get together on something that they both believe in," said Michael Tessitore of East Quogue, founder of Hunters for Deer, who was at the rally along with a contingent of camouflage-clad fellow hunters. "At the end of the day the best solution is to recognize that hunting should be the major management tool for the deer population on Long Island."
Many who attended the rally, organized by Long Island Orchestrating for Nature, complained that there was no impact statement published about the effect of having sharpshooters come in and kill the deer.
The animals, estimated at 30,000 in Suffolk County, have been blamed for car accidents, millions of dollars in crop damage and a correlation with tick-borne illnesses such as Lyme disease.
"The deer are going to suffer terribly by this cull, if it goes through," said John Di Leonardo, president of LION. The group marched single file from a meeting point on Main Street to a park on Newtown Lane, waving signs and eliciting honks from passersby. "It's not just going to be sharpshooting, which is terrible within itself . . . but also netting. To net a frightened deer -- they flop around like a fish out of water. It's absolutely disgusting."
Lawsuits have already started to crop up, Di Leonardo said. Newsday reported last week that local animal-rights activists have filed a legal challenge to block the cull.
Some protesters complained that state money shouldn't have been given to the group organizing the cull -- the Long Island Farm Bureau -- without a voter referendum. Others advocated nonlethal ways, such as contraception methods, to stem the deer population.
"We've done everything we can to stop this cull. It's going to be a terrible slaughter of the deer," said Bill Crain of Montauk, president of East Hampton Group for Wildlife. Crain said his group has been lobbying East Hampton town officials for deer contraception programs since 2004. "The deer are sentient beings with family and emotions."