Federal sharpshooters killed 192 deer during a cull earlier this year, according to a report to be released Wednesday, missing the mark set by advocates to eliminate as many as 3,000 deer and significantly reduce Suffolk County's herd.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services reported the operation took place over six weeks starting in late February and going to the first week in April on 12 properties, targeting female deer. Shooting at night from the back of trucks and tree stands over bait, Wildlife Services killed 132 deer on the North Fork and 60 deer on the South Fork. More than 6,000 pounds of venison were donated to food banks, according to the report.
The 21-page report cited a variety of challenges that hampered the cull, including bad weather, legal challenges and "direct interference from individuals opposed to this project." Among them were opponents walking through shooting zones and baiting sites to scare away deer. Cameras set up to monitor sites recorded 20 "human disturbances" at the baiting sites, which typically used corn or apples to attract deer.
Advocates acknowledged they were disappointed in the cull results and wouldn't do it again with public dollars.
"We went through hell to do this," said Joe Gergela, executive director of the Long Island Farm Bureau, which had received a $250,000 state grant. "It was a pilot project. It wasn't as successful as we hoped."
Opponents said the few deer killed proves that federal sharpshooters aren't the most efficient way to manage deer.
"It goes to show you, hunters are more effective and less costly than the federal sharpshooter program," said Michael Tessitore, an East Quogue resident and head of the group Hunters for Deer, which formed to fight the cull.
Blaming opponents for the low deer total, he said, is a "poor excuse." He denied he or his supporters did anything aggressive to disrupt the cull.
. The Farm Bureau asked towns and villages if they wanted to join in. Initially, East End towns and villages, as well as Brookhaven, expressed interest, tapping into residents' anger at deer for carrying ticks, eating ornamental plants and causing car crashes.
But as public opposition to the plan grew, eventually only Southold town came through with $25,000.
Gergela said that half of that money will be returned.