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Village seeks to regulate installation of deer fences

Hundreds of deer are thought to live in

Hundreds of deer are thought to live in and around Head of the Harbor. Credit: Avalon Park & Preserve

Head of the Harbor trustees are writing legislation to regulate deer fences, which are not now permitted under village code.

“People are obviously erecting deer fences now without asking anybody for permission,” trustee Jeffrey Fischer said at a July 15 work session. “They’re not speaking with neighbors and it’s creating a problem.”   

Deer are a problem on much of Long Island’s North Shore. It’s thought that hundreds live in or around the village, where they have decimated undergrowth and landscaping and may contribute to the spread of tick-borne diseases. Residents are divided on whether to allow hunting, and a Tufts University/Humane Society of the United States study of deer contraception that some hope will control the population is still at an early stage.

Village code now restricts fence height to 4 feet in front yards and 6 feet elsewhere, too short to keep out deer capable of jumping 8 feet. Deer fences are typically at least that high. Cornell Cooperative Extension recommends materials such as plastic mesh or woven- and welded-wire for deer fencing. But while fencing could present a nonlethal means of protecting some residents’ properties, some village officials expressed misgivings over the prospect of fortresslike construction.  

Those concerns are practical and aesthetic. Fencing may funnel deer into unprotected yards and roads. Too much, built without adequate standards, could create a “Gitmo look,” Deputy Mayor Daniel White said, a reference to the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. 

Trustees have not scheduled a public hearing and said last week they would continue to discuss rules for setbacks and vegetative screening for fences, though trustee Gordon Van Vechten said that even some of the shrubs commonly used for screening might become deer food. 

In an interview, Zoning Board of Appeals chairman Joseph Bollhoffer said his board had fielded applications for variances to allow deer fences but granted only one, for billionaire Robert Mercer's 80-acre estate. “To have a whole bunch of two-acre lots” — the village standard — “fenced in with 8-foot fences is not going to look too good,” he said.  

Mayor Douglas Dahlgard did not make himself available for an interview and did not share a copy of the draft legislation, which is based on a law passed earlier this year in the Brookhaven Village of Old Field. 

That law limits deer fences to 8 feet, requires screening and forbids fence materials such as razor wire and canvas. Applicants must go before village trustees with a survey showing the fence layout, and trustees vote on each application. 

Old Field Mayor Michael Levine said about half a dozen residents have installed deer fences, with no complaints from neighbors. “If people want to keep deer off their property, then it’s absolutely fine with the village if they install a deer fence,” he said.

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