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Fire Island National Seashore: 230 deer shot to reduce overpopulation

Deer graze along the dunes at Robert Moses

Deer graze along the dunes at Robert Moses State Park during the late afternoon of March 4. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

The hunting of white-tailed deer at the Fire Island National Seashore that began at the start of the month ended a couple of weeks early after 230 deer were shot and killed with their meat donated to food banks, park officials said.

About 130 of the deer slain because park officials said their overgrazing was destroying the landscape lived on the actual island, home to thousands of vacation homes prized for its proximity to New York City.

That is over one-fourth of the approximately 400 deer the park service had estimated lived on the island. The hunters, hired through a contractor, were focused on the Wilderness Area though they also targeted deer in other locations that had grown accustomed to people, partly through hand-feeding. The tame deer first were trapped and then killed. 

Another 100 deer were shot and killed at the Fire Island National Seashore’s mainland property, the William Floyd Estate. That is the same size as the entire herd the park service had estimated lived at the 1-square-mile park.

More than 8,000 pounds of deer meat was donated, officials said.

From 1993 to 2009, the National Park Service has relied on contraception; this is the first recent hunt and animal welfare organizations decried the switch to hunting, which the park service said it chose because it was swifter.

White tailed deer eat trees and shrubs and an over-large herd prevents forests from maturing and limits how many other creatures — small mammals, amphibians and reptiles — the park can support, officials say.

The park service plan anticipates using immunocontraceptives after the cullings and after and “acceptable agent“ is available.

This is the second year of the three-year hunts designed to reduce the herds to no more than 20 to 25 deer per square mile. This year’s hunt was planned to run the full month of March. The densities of deer on 32-mile-long Fire island previously were estimated to range from 50 to 300 per square mile.

Last year, federal employees shot and killed 25 deer living at the William Floyd Estate.

The contractor, a nonprofit, in a statement said it was “very pleased with the outcome.” 

“We look forward to realizing the longer-term habitat benefits of a reduced deer population," said Dr. Anthony DeNicola, founder and CEO of White Buffalo Inc.

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