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Judge throws out suit challenging Fire Island deer-management plan

A deer is seen near the lighthouse on

A deer is seen near the lighthouse on Fire Island on June 24. Credit: Alessandro Vecchi

A federal judge has thrown out an animal rights group’s lawsuit challenging the Fire Island National Seashore’s plan to use hunters to curb the barrier island’s population of white-tailed deer.

U.S. District Court Judge Sandra J. Feuerstein, who sits in Central Islip, closed a case filed last year by Friends of Animals, which had argued that the agency’s plan to cull the population of white-tailed deer violated federal law because its architects did not consider “an alternative that utilizes only nonlethal options.”

The Connecticut and New York-based group said FINS and the National Park Service did not adhere to the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires consideration of alternative methods of population control.

But Feuerstein rejected the argument, saying federal authorities that manage Fire Island did consider a range of alternative approaches but were under no legal obligation to consider or select the animal rights group’s recommendation.

She denied a motion brought by the group seeking summary judgment and ruled in favor of the agency’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

“While (the National Park Service) did not include a discussion of Plaintiff’s proposed 'nonlethal alternative,' as stated above, the fact remains that no statute or regulation required it to do so,” she wrote in a decision signed Tuesday and released Friday. “The Court finds that a reasonable range of alternatives were adequately presented in light of the Plan’s overarching purpose and varied objectives. These alternatives, in turn, were thoroughly explored and objectively evaluated such that a reasoned and intelligent choice could be made by NPS.”

Friends of Animals and the National Park Service could not be reached for comment. 

The plan, released in December 2015, comprises nearly 500 pages and outlines ways to control the deer population, which grows rapidly since they have no natural predators on the barrier island. Residents have complained that the deer are destroying native vegetation.

The methods of control called for in the plan include hunting, birth control and fencing. Feuerstein said the plan includes about 44 pages of alternatives.

Friends of Animals had also argued that FINS erred in its planning because it had insufficient knowledge of deer population movements when the plan was drafted, and that its selection of an “island-wide” plan for population control was ”arbitrary and capricious” and a poor choice in light of the evidence the planners had before them.

Feuerstein rejected those claims as well.

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