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Hunters kill tagged deer used in study, researcher says

About 50 deer in Head of the Harbor

About 50 deer in Head of the Harbor are part of population control study. Credit: Avalon Park & Preserve

Hunters have killed four deer that were part of a study on the uses of immunocontraception for population control of the species in Head of the Harbor village, the researcher in charge of the study said.

"Killing tagged deer is very harmful to the research, since each one provides us with information on how long the contraceptive vaccine lasts and helps us understand how deer move around the village," Tufts University researcher Allen Rutberg said in an email.

While village officials this month posted, then removed a notice on the municipal website suggesting that hunting tagged deer could be illegal, a spokesman for the New York State Department of Environmental Control, which regulates hunting, said in an email that "there are no restrictions on taking a tagged deer."

Frank Kentoffio, a Patchogue resident who is president of hunters group, Long Island Wildlife Control, said bow hunters from his group had killed the tagged deer on private property in the village, along with about 15 or 16 untagged deer from the village since the start of hunting season Oct. 1. He described the study as "a science experiment" that "doesn’t work … The only way to reduce their numbers is by culling them." The four tagged deer were does with fawns, he said. "They all had two fawns and full milk sacs," he said.

Kentoffio said his group gets permission from property owners to shoot from elevated tree stands. The hunters — he was one — recognized the does as tagged before they shot, he said. The fawns escaped and were old enough to survive on their own, he said.

Deer are common in and around the densely wooded village. While there is no official census of the population, residents and local authorities say the population appears to be in the hundreds and growing rapidly, consuming foliage and landscaping and serving as a vector for tick-borne disease. Locals disagree about how to address the problem. Some say hunting is the only solution, while others call the practice barbaric and potentially dangerous; they want to limit the population by birth control, even if it takes years. Proponents say PZP has worked elsewhere, including the Westchester village of Hastings-on-Hudson.

The killings came after the announcement by Head of the Harbor officials this fall that they would suspend enforcement of a village ordinance that effectively banned bowhunting in the village, pending resolution of a lawsuit another hunters group, Hunters For Deer, filed over a similar ban by the Town of Smithtown. The town ordinance was overturned, but lawyers for the town have appealed.

In an interview, Rutberg said the killings would weaken but not invalidate data from the study, which is designed to test the efficacy of PZP, a hormonal immunocontraceptive, when delivered by dart to female deer. About 50 deer have been dosed with PZP, he said. Other study goals include testing systems to estimate population and identify individual deer. The study was not designed to slow deer population growth, though village officials are hopeful that will be a side benefit.

According to the village website announcement, hunting tagged deer "raises certain ethical questions that may be a concern to our residents. Residents should realize and understand that while they are within their legal rights to grant permission to hunters to utilize their properties for legitimate hunting, they are also within their rights to withhold permission, or, to rescind permission because of unethical or unscrupulous behavior by hunters."

The DEC requires any deer that has been sedated, as was the case with deer in the Head of the Harbor study, to be marked with a warning prohibiting consumption. That is a precaution to "prevent any potential human health impacts," said the agency spokesman.

Kentoffio said his hunters usually eat what they kill or donate the venison to Long Island food pantries; they instead disposed of the tagged deer.

Kentoffio said there were so many deer in the area around northern Smithtown and Stony Brook that some were starving. "There’s no food left. You walk through the woods, you can see hundreds of yards — there’s no understory left."

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