Port Jefferson plans to have its first deer cull next winter to contend with what officials say is a marked increase of bucks, does and fawns in the North Shore village.
Mayor Margot J. Garant said village residents are fed up with seeing deer grazing in their yards and crashing into them on Port Jefferson's narrow, winding roads. She estimated the village has become home to 400 to 500 deer, which congregate mostly in the community's rustic eastern section near the Port Jefferson Country Club.
Some North Shore residents say they have seen 20 to 30 deer at a time, munching on their vegetable gardens, and officials said collisions between cars and deer have spiked in recent years. Garant said about 30 village residents at a recent community meeting were unanimous in supporting the cull.
“There was no one person who was, like, 'You can’t kill the deer,' " she said. "The question was, how can we do it, when can we do it?”
Port Jefferson officials are considering hiring hunters from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to kill deer after the summer tourism season, Garant said. The USDA charges about $50,000 a year for three years of the service, Garant said. Venison from deer killed by USDA hunters is given to local food banks.
Port Jefferson also may seek proposals from professional hunters, Garant said, adding the village would have to amend its ban on bow-hunting to allow a cull.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation says Suffolk County's deer population has grown substantially in recent decades, estimating the county has 25,400 to 34,600 deer. The animals have migrated west from East End towns such as Shelter Island and East Hampton, the DEC says.
Deer hunting has stirred controversy in some areas of Long Island.
Animal rights groups sued federal authorities earlier this year to try to prevent a cull on federal lands such as the William Floyd Estate in Mastic Beach. A federal judge ruled in February that the cull could take place.
D.J. Schubert, a wildlife biologist with the Washington, D.C.-based Animal Welfare Institute, one of the groups that tried to block the Floyd estate cull, said he didn't know whether the institute would oppose one in Port Jefferson. But he said the village should try other methods before slaughtering the animals.
“The way the Port Jefferson officials are describing it is perhaps too simplistic. [Deer are] not living in our habitat, we’re living in their habitat,” he said. “You can take actions to mitigate the instances of these accidents.”
Residents should drive slower at dawn and dusk, when deer typically roam, Schubert said, adding the institute recommends that municipalities use immuno-contraceptive vaccines intended to sterilize deer.
But Port Jefferson residents such as Kathy Schiavone said hunting is the only way to thin the herds. Schiavone said she once counted 19 deer in her yard.
“A few years ago, they would run. Now they’re so used to humans that they just stop and stare at you,” she said. “They don’t scare easily.”
Neighboring villages reporting large increases of deer
The village, just east of Port Jefferson, allows residents to hire hunters to hunt on private lands. That has reduced the deer population there from about 300 several years ago to approximately 200 now, Mayor Bob Sandak said.
“A number of people in the community decided that they wanted to invite hunters onto their property,” he said. “It’s been very successful for us.”
He added that the village may authorize a cull if the deer population does not significantly decline.
Hunters are allowed to shoot deer on private lands with the permission of property owners, Mayor Michael Levine said.
"Right now," he said, "we are not considering something more than what is presently in place."