Judge halts new permits for deer cull

Cutchogue resident Patrick McBride talks about the deer cull that has begun on the East End. The shootings are part of a contract with the Long Island Farm Bureau, federal officials said on Feb. 28, 2014. (Credit: Randee Daddona)

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A judge in Albany Thursday stopped the state from issuing new permits for the deer cull on eastern Long Island, further limiting a plan that proponents had once hoped would put a significant dent in the Island deer herd.

The temporary restraining order blocks the state Department of Environmental Conservation from issuing new deer damage permits, at least until March 28, when another court hearing is scheduled.

"It's a good day for the deer," said Michael Tessitore, founder of Hunters for Deer, a Long Island group opposed to the cull.

The DEC had issued 12 permits for the cull on private land in Southold, Riverhead and Southampton as of last week. Nine permits were still pending.

Federal sharpshooters, armed with suppressed rifles, have been on eastern Long Island since last week. The original plan this summer was to kill up to 3,000 deer, to address a host of concerns brought on by a growing deer population -- crop damage, car crashes and the carrying of ticks.

It would have been the largest federal cull in state history. The plan was scaled back as all local governments but Southold backed away, and the estimate was dropped to about 1,000 deer.

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The cull can still take place under existing permits, said Carol Bannerman, spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services.

Hunting and wildlife groups joined forces to bring action against the DEC and Long Island Farm Bureau, which represents farmers and is the lead organization on the cull.

Opponents of the cull argued in court that the DEC should have done an environmental study before issuing the permits.

New York Supreme Court Justice Joseph C. Teresi in Albany County found that opponents "are likely to succeed on the merits of these claims" and that "immediate and irreparable injury will ensue" if the cull moved forward.

USDA officials have declined to say how many deer have been killed so far. The division will provide a report to the Farm Bureau, according to the agreement.

Tessitore said he hoped the DEC would "establish a real deer management plan."

Hunting groups have pushed the state to ease hunting restrictions, including allowing bow-and-arrow hunters to be closer to homes and for crossbows to be used. Those efforts have also been supported by local officials.

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