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Appeals court upholds plan to cull white-tailed deer population on Fire Island

There are about 400 white-tailed deer on Fire

There are about 400 white-tailed deer on Fire Island, where this one was in December 2015, and 100 at the William Floyd Estate in Mastic Beach on a portion of the seashore on the mainland, according to the Fire Island National Seashore website. Credit: Ed Betz

A federal appellate court on Monday ruled in favor of Fire Island National Seashore’s plan to control the white-tailed deer population with hunters and euthanasia, upholding a lower court decision.

Officials at Fire Island National Seashore released a management plan in 2015 to address the impact of the deer, which are known to eat vegetation and carry tick-borne diseases. There are approximately 400 deer on Fire Island and 100 at the William Floyd Estate in Mastic Beach on a portion of the seashore on the mainland, according to the Fire Island National Seashore website.

The preferred management method calls for fencing and reducing the population to 20 to 25 deer per square mile, or about 220 on Fire Island and 24 at the estate, through sharpshooting, euthanasia and public hunting.

The Connecticut and New York-based Friends of Animals filed a lawsuit in U.S. Eastern District Court in 2016 claiming officials at Fire Island National Seashore and the National Park Service did not adhere to the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires consideration of alternative methods of population control in crafting the plan.

A three-judge panel in the Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Manhattan disagreed, upholding a July 2018 decision by U.S. District Court Judge Sandra J. Feuerstein, who sits in Central Islip.

“A review of the copious administrative record reveals that, far from failing to take a hard look, the agency made a reasoned decision after years of discussion and study by numerous experts,” Circuit Judge Gerard Lynch wrote in the 28-page decision handed down Monday. “In short, it is abundantly clear that NPS took a hard look at the environmental consequences of the Plan.”

Courtney McVean, an attorney representing Friends of Animals, said the group was disappointed in the decision, which it contends will result in hundreds of deer "unnecessarily slaughtered." She said the agency should have instead considered accommodating the deer in a wilderness section of Fire Island.

“Friends of Animals remains very concerned about the future of this wonderful and beautiful species on Fire Island National Seashore, especially considering the fact that this plan calls for the quick eradication of 80% of the deer population,” McVean said.

Representatives of the National Park Service could not be reached for comment.

Deer thrive on Fire Island due to lack of predators and an abundant food source. Twenty-five deer were culled at the estate in March 2019, with more culls planned for that location and Fire Island.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said the animal welfare group Friends of Animals promotes contraception to control the deer population at Fire Island National Seashore.

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