Opponents of a plan by the Long Island Farm Bureau to use federal sharpshooters to thin the deer herd on eastern Long Island are licking their wounds after a State Supreme Court judge dismissed a lawsuit to block part of the hunt.
"It's a good day for Southold, a bad day for the deer," Michael Tessitore, founder of the group Hunters for Deer, which opposes the cull, said Thursday.
On Wednesday, State Supreme Court Judge Gerard Asher dismissed the lawsuit, which had argued that the Town of Southold had not done proper environmental review and should not be allowed to spend $25,000 on the cull. Hunters and animal rights groups joined forces to fight the plan.
"Clearly, we feel this is a miscarriage," said Wendy Chamberlin, president of the Wildlife Preservation Coalition of Eastern Long Island. She and Tessitore said opponents were discussing their options, including whether to appeal the decision.
But time might be running out to stop the cull, which federal officials have said they planned to start in late February and which is estimated to kill 1,000 deer.
"From what I understand, the cull will be underway shortly," said Southold Supervisor Scott Russell, whose town is the only one participating in the cull.
Some towns and villages, including East Hampton, backed out from providing money after opposition from animal rights groups.
The contract is between the Long Island Farm Bureau, which represents farmers, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services. Joe Gergela, executive director of the farm bureau, said Thursday that he could not comment on the cull. USDA representatives did not respond to requests for comment.
The contract, which was signed Feb. 13, said that the deer management plans will take place in February and March, using suppressed firearms over bait from elevated stands or the back of vehicles, and drop nets. The cull will only take place where landowners have agreed to participate.
The cull will cost $220,000, and all venison will be donated to local food banks, according to the agreement.
Proponents of the cull say that deer have become safety hazards and pests that cause car crashes, carry ticks and eat the understory of the forest. Opponents of the cull have said that loosening hunting restrictions would be a less costly and less drastic way of dealing with deer overpopulation.