A federal judge postponed the start of a two-year culling of whitetail deer that had been set to start Wednesday at William Floyd Estate in Mastic Beach at the request of animal welfare groups that sued to stop the hunt.
The judge set a Thursday hearing to consider whether to allow the hunt to go forward, or keep the suspension in place as the lawsuit proceeds.
Fire Island National Seashore officials plan to have 100 of the 132 deer living on the one-square mile estate shot and killed. Seashore officials have said the culling is necessary because the herd is so large it's destroying landscape.
Animal welfare groups, however, say nonlethal methods to control the herds, including contraception, are preferable and the culling by gunfire will prove unsuccessful. Representatives of the Washington, D.C.-based Animal Welfare Institute and Newark-based Wildlife Preserves Inc. filed an emergency motion last Friday seeking a temporary restraining order to stop the hunt — and the judge approved it.
The two nonprofits sued the Fire Island Seashore in November, arguing the hunt violated the National Environmental Policy Act and deed restrictions governing land donated to the Seashore.
A spokeswoman for the Fire Island National Seashore, Elizabeth Rogers, confirmed that the hunt had been suspended, referring additional questions to the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York.
Thursday's hearing before U.S. District Court Judge Sandra Feuerstein is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. in Central Islip federal court.
Park officials have said there are too many deer and their foraging is too destructive to be allowed to continue.
They eat native trees, shrubs and saplings, preventing the forest from maturing, and limiting the other wildlife the park can support, Fire Island National Seashore Superintendent Alex Romero said in a statement Tuesday.
"The goal of this effort is to provide a healthy forest habitat for all plants and animals," Romero said, "and to preserve the historic landscape of the William Floyd Estate."
Romero said that without the culling, "there is little hope for these habitats to recover."
Critics of the cullings have argued for years that the government should control the deer population through contraception, not hunts.
The animal welfare groups, in their lawsuit, said the Seashore failed to consider and review a reasonable range of alternatives, including contraception, and failed to disclose all relevant data to the public.
Further, the suit said, the Seashore should return the land Wildlife Preserves donated decades ago that later became the Sunken Forest section of the national park on the barrier island. The deed required that it be maintained as a wildlife sanctuary, they say.
The culling was to be carried out by U.S. Department of Agriculture employees armed with shotguns. Any deer killed would be donated to food banks, said Elizabeth Rogers, a spokeswoman for the Fire Island National Seashore.