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Editorial: New ideas to thin the deer herd

Deer seen in a field off of Apaquogue

Deer seen in a field off of Apaquogue Road in East Hampton on Friday, June 27, 2014. Credit: Veronique Louis

Round One goes to the deer.

A plan to kill as many as 3,000 across the East End ended in epic failure earlier this year -- only 192 were culled. That will make no dent in an eastern Suffolk County herd estimated at 25,000 to 35,000 -- and growing. Nor is it likely to measurably reduce the spread of Lyme disease, the number of auto accidents involving deer, or the destruction of crops, home gardens and forest habitat.

Now East Hampton Village is preparing to launch a program to surgically sterilize all does within its five square miles. Those who oppose killing deer deem this an acceptable solution, and its considerable expense -- an estimated $1,000 per deer -- is being covered largely by a local civic group. Given the small land area, it's conceivable every doe can be found. But this plan also is unlikely to achieve its goal; sterilization eliminates new deer but does nothing to reduce the herd currently creating havoc. Experts say it takes at least seven years and often longer to see reductions in deer numbers from fertility control alone.

Southampton Town is trying a more encouraging approach. A collection of disparate parties -- including deer protection groups, local hunters, and the town's land management and environmental experts -- has put together a plan that combines contraceptives, a cull involving area hunters, and "four-poster" devices that apply pesticides to deer to kill ticks that spread Lyme disease. Details and costs are still being worked out, but experts say such a combination is the best approach to deer management. The cull reduces current numbers of deer, and the contraceptive, which must be administered annually, limits additions.

Southampton officials intend to present the plan to other town supervisors and village mayors in the weeks ahead. It's worth a listen.