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Judge extends order suspending deer culling at William Floyd Estate

Animal welfare groups got the temporary restraining order to stop federally sanctioned hunting a day before it was to start this past Wednesday.

The extended temporary restraining order spares for now

The extended temporary restraining order spares for now the shooting of more than 100 of the 132 whitetail deer planned by the Fire Island National Seashore. Photo Credit: Randee Daddona

A plan to cull whitetail deer at William Floyd Estate that was suspended at the request of animal welfare groups will remain on hold, a federal judge ruled Thursday.

U.S. District Court Judge Sandra J. Feuerstein had granted a stay Tuesday in Central Islip that delayed the hunt by the Fire Island National Seashore — scheduled to begin the next day — to shoot and kill more than 100 of the 132 deer living on the square mile estate. Thursday's extension will continue until the judge rules on the stay, said a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, which represents the Seashore.

The same judge in 2018 ruled against another animal welfare group that also sued the Seashore to block the hunt because it violated the National Environmental Policy Act, the spokesman said.  That law requires agencies to take a “hard look” in analyzing their strategies in solving problems.

Fire Island National Seashore officials have said the culling is necessary because the herd is so large it is destroying landscape.

Animal welfare groups, however, have said nonlethal methods to control the herds, including contraception, are preferable and the culling by gunfire will prove unsuccessful. Representatives from the Washington, D.C.-based Animal Welfare Institute and Whippany New Jersey-based Wildlife Preserves Inc. filed an emergency motion last Friday seeking a temporary restraining order and injunction to stop the hunt. The judge granted the temporary restraining order Tuesday, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District.

The two-year hunt would have been carried out by U.S. Department of Agriculture employees armed with shotguns. Such hunters are allowed to lure the deer with bait, such as apples, and at night, blind them with flashlights. The deer meat would be donated to food banks.

The two nonprofits sued the Fire Island National Seashore in November, arguing the hunt violated the National Environmental Policy Act and deed restrictions governing land donated to the Seashore. 

"For now, the deer are safe from government sharpshooters,” Johanna Hamburger, an attorney for the Animal Welfare Institute, said in a statement Thursday.

Though located on the mainland, the William Floyd Estate is part of the Fire Island National Seashore. 

Seashore officials have said tracts that size only can support 20 to 25 deer. 

Starting next year, Seashore officials plan another two-year hunt in the park's Wilderness area on Fire Island. That section is just over 1.7 square miles and about 91 deer lived there in 2018, the agency estimated. About 65 of them would be killed if the herd's size doesn't change, under the park service's guidelines.

The animal welfare groups' lawsuit noted the overwhelming majority of public comments sent to the Seashore when it was crafting its plan opposed the hunt. Fire Islanders say the deer are remarkably tame, and accustomed to eating hand-fed treats, including bagels.

IThe 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. 

Seashore officials say the deer eat native trees, shrubs and saplings, preventing the forest from maturing, and limiting the other wildlife the park can support.

U.S. District Court Judge Sandra J. Feuerstein ruled in 2018 against another group that also sued to block the hunt. The information was incorrect in an earlier version of this story.


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