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Southold sued for role in deer cull

White-tailed deer intrude on the property of homes

White-tailed deer intrude on the property of homes in Southold on Nov. 17, 2013. Credit: Randee Daddona

Animal preservation and hunting groups have filed suit against the Town of Southold and its leaders in an effort to stop a federal sharpshooter deer cull program.

The suit, filed in New York State Supreme Court on Friday, also names the Long Island Farm Bureau, the primary architect of the cull.

As East End towns and villages threatened by similar lawsuits have pulled out, the target number of deer has been reduced from 3,000 to 1,000. The Farm Bureau, which has a $250,000 state grant to pay for the program, sought it to reduce damage to farms and other property.

Environmentalists would prefer nonlethal means, such as contraception, to control the population. Local hunters say they could control deer with an expanded season.

The suit, filed by the Wildlife Preservation Coalition of Eastern Long Island, the Animal Welfare Institute, Hunters for Deer and several individuals, seeks to prevent Southold Town from contributing its $25,000 share of the deer-cull program costs and from "taking any action in furtherance of the East End Deer Management" program.

Jeffrey Baker, an attorney for the environmental and hunting groups, said the town had been served with court papers Friday, and requested a postponement until Tuesday.

The suit alleges the town violated the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act by illegally classifying the project to avoid conducting its own review of the project's environmental impact.

It also alleges the town board "failed to consider whether there were reasonable means to control and stabilize the deer population in the town through nonlethal methods." The filing seeks a temporary restraining order to halt the project until a judge can review it.

"Should the deer cull commence, such killing of deer would result in a permanent change in the landscape, the wildlife present in the town and the environment of the town," the suit alleges.

Representatives of Southold Town, which earlier this month approved allocating money for the cull, on Friday said they had not been served, and declined to comment on the suit.

Supervisor Scott Russell, who is named as a defendant in the suit, didn't return a call Saturday. Wendy Chamberlin, president of the Wildlife Preservation Coalition, also declined to comment. Members of the other groups in the suit could not be reached. Farm Bureau director Joe Gergela didn't return a call.

Southold had been the lone holdout among the East End municipalities that had originally expressed an interest in participating in the federal management program, which is run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Last week, a spokeswoman for the USDA, declining a Newsday reporter's request to travel with the sharpshooter teams, said the agency would begin the cull as scheduled. USDA officials did not return phone calls Friday about the lawsuit and its possible impact on the plan.

Two weeks ago, when the Village and Town of East Hampton announced their intention to withdraw from the sharpshooter program, USDA officials lowered their estimate of the number of deer that would be killed to around 1,000 from an original 2,000 to 3,000. They said that in addition to conducting the cull on parcels in Southold, including farms and other private properties, they would hold the cull on state land.

Teams of three, all biologists, conduct their work at night on a raised flatbed truck, using night vision scopes, low-noise rifles and special bullets to avoid shots beyond the deer.

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