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DEC launches probe after deer fatally shot in prohibited area at Hampton Bays rehabilitation center

Tape marks the spot of a bullet hole

Tape marks the spot of a bullet hole at the Evelyn Alexander Wildlife Rescue Center in Hampton Bays. "DEC is investigating the incident and will take appropriate actions after a thorough review," said agency spokesman Bill Fonda. Credit: Virginia Frati

The state Department of Environmental Conservation is investigating an incident in which a hunter allegedly fired three shots near a Hampton Bays wildlife rehabilitation center, striking a fence, an empty animal cage and killing a deer on a property where hunting is prohibited.

DEC officers were called to the Evelyn Alexander Wildlife Rescue Center on West Montauk Highway on Jan. 4, according to the DEC. There officers found the injured deer behind the center, bullet holes in the fence and a door, and three spent shotgun shells within 500 feet of the building.

The officers questioned the hunter, a man from Central Islip, who said he entered from a legal hunting co-op parking spot and mistakenly walked into an area where hunting is prohibited. No charges have been filed.

"DEC is investigating the incident and will take appropriate actions after a thorough review," said DEC spokesman Bill Fonda.

January is firearms deer-hunting season in Suffolk County, but shooting a gun within 500 feet of an unoccupied structure is illegal in New York State without the building owner’s consent. Hunting is prohibited in Munn’s Pond County Park, the Suffolk County property where the wildlife center is located. It is allowed on the adjacent Henrys Hollow Pine Barrens State Forest, which is owned and managed by the DEC. Hunters walk through the county property to access the state land, said Virginia Frati, the rescue center’s executive director. A no-hunting sign is posted near where the deer was shot.

Frati said she and her staff were upset to see the dying deer approximately 40 feet from a building where injured animals are rehabilitated. She speculated the deer may have been previously cared for at the center. She said she confronted the hunter, who apologized and said he was lost. The deer later died.

"The deer was lying like 10 feet from our cage complex, still alive, kicking, it was horrible," Frati told Newsday Tuesday. "I yelled at the guy, ‘What are you doing? Do you know where you are? You’re at a wildlife hospital.’ "

Frati, who has spoken on the issue before, plans to lobby the Suffolk Legislature this month to prohibit hunters from traversing the county property. She noted the center opened in 2000, several years before hunters began using the parcel. The county park also features hiking trails open to the public.

Suffolk County Park Commissioner Jason Smagin said the county has reached out to the DEC to request further information. Legis. Bridget Fleming (D-Noyack), whose district includes the wildlife center, said she has called on the DEC to suspend hunting at the site until the investigation is complete.

Frati said the concept of allowing hunting near a place where animals are healed is disturbing.

"It’s like having an adult bookstore next to a children’s playground, next to a church," she said.

Terry O’Riordan, a director of the East Hampton Sportsmen’s Alliance, a nonprofit hunting group, said the organization’s approximately 100 members abide by a code of ethics and would have considered the bullet’s trajectory before firing the shot. He said the hunter in last week’s incident acted irresponsibly.

"We all pass up shots like crazy to avoid an incident like this," O’Riordan said. "Once you pull the trigger, you can’t put the bullet back in the gun."

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