Lawsuit targets deer cull on East End

White-tailed deer intrude on the property of homes White-tailed deer intrude on the property of homes in Southold on Nov. 17, 2013. Photo Credit: Randee Daddona

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Opponents of a plan to kill 3,000 deer using federal sharpshooters have filed a lawsuit to block the cull in East Hampton, saying the management plan has not been properly studied and threatens to eradicate the animals from the South Fork.

The suit, filed in State Supreme Court by pro-wildlife groups Thursday, seeks to stop the Town of East Hampton and villages within its border from participating in the cull, which is being organized by the Long Island Farm Bureau. It would be held over 40 nights starting in late February, and bring in federal agents with night-vision equipment and suppressed, or silenced, rifles.

The lawsuit says the cull and East Hampton's overall deer management plan, passed in June, is "contradicted by science, reason and the evidence.

"A decision by a municipality cannot be arbitrary and capricious," attorney Edward Lebeaux, of the Manhattan law firm of Devereaux Baumbgarten, said Monday. "It has to be based on facts that are substantiated. And they did not do that."

The cull has struck an emotional chord among those who believe the white-tailed deer symbolizes the Island's natural landscape and humans' intrusion into it. Hunters have also protested the cull, saying it's extreme and such management is best left to them.

But many residents and town officials say the deer population has grown too large, for its own good and public safety.

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At town forums and meetings over the past year, residents have expressed frustration with what they say is an exploding deer population that eats crops, damages property, causes car crashes and -- some say -- spreads ticks that carry diseases, like Lyme disease.

But Bill Crain, president of the East Hampton Group for Wildlife, said the town and village should do a full environmental study. He believes the deer population in the Hamptons is actually declining.

"I'm afraid it would exterminate the deer population."

The planned cull has drawn opposition from an unlikely source: deer hunters.

Hunters for Deer formed this month to oppose the cull. It consists of hunters, and small businesses that rely on hunting.

Michael Tessitore, group founder, said Monday that the cull wouldn't have a long-term effect on population control and would take a state resource -- deer -- from hunters who use them as food. Instead, Tessitore said, efforts should be made to open up more land for hunters on eastern Long Island and pass laws allowing them to get closer to buildings and use crossbows.

As of Monday night, a pro-wildlife online petition to stop the cull had garnered 8,836 signatures. Tessitore's petition to stop the cull has more than 800 signatures, and another he organized has 1,200 signatures gathered, he said.

But the cull is moving forward, said Joe Gergela, farm bureau executive director.

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East Hampton voted Friday to spend $15,000 to participate in the cull. Other governments, including East Hampton Town, have yet to formally commit.

With Mitchell Freedman

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