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Deer Advocates Hope Legal Action Stops 'Slaughter In Its Tracks'

The controversy surrounding a proposed East End sharpshooter program continues to heat up.

A new group of deer advocates has joined the growing army rising up in opposition to a proposed East End sharpshooter program aimed at culling the deer herd.

Since the program was first discussed in Southold, thousands have signed a petition in protest, hunters have spoken out against the plan, and opponents have filed suit against East Hampton municipalities.

And now, an animal rights group, Long Island Orchestrating for Nature, has blasted the proposed program.

John Di Leonardo, president of LION, said he believes legal action is necessary and said alternatives to the sharpshooter program should be considered.

The five East End towns have been asked to sign on to the program, organized by the United States Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services division.

Riverhead Town opted out of the sharpshooter plan.

"The USDA Wildlife services is truly a sham," Di Leonardo said, adding that to sign a contract with them rather than listen to residents who are crying out for alternatives is a "travesty."

He added that if the program takes place as scheduled, "there is likely to be much more protest. I am hopeful legal action stops this slaughter in its tracks," Di Leonardo said.

"Wildlife services is just a killing agency that hopes to keep the long-term problem alive so that they can keep returning to take more tax-payer money every year. They care nothing about Long Islanders, whether those Islanders are human or wildlife."

Carol Bannerman, the USDA Wildlife media representative for the issue, said the focus of the marksman program is to maintain "a safe, humane and effective operation."

Before the USDA will enter a community, permits must be issued by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and private property owners must give permission for marksmen to proceed on their land.

No human injuries have ever been noted as a result of the USDA's program, she said.

"People say we're a killing agency, but we are more like a chasing agency," she said. "We do a lot of chasing animals away."

In 2012, the agency chased away 2.3 million animals, or 97 percent of those doing damage, in New York State, and of those lethally removed, 68 percent were European starlings, an invasive species. Only four animals out of 69,000 were killed by mistake, she said. 

The USDA is not fond of the term "sharpshooter," Bannerman said, and prefers the word "marksman." "It gives this image of people in a black uniform, skulking through the woods."

All marksmen have a BA in wildlife biology, and have been had criminal background and drug checks, as well have experience in firearms.

"All of these elements are designed for safety," Bannerman said. "People say we are baiting poor little deer. But that's because we bait in a place where we can have a downward shot, so there is no chance there would be pass-through and something else might be hit."

Each team has three members, Bannerman said; a driver, a spotter, and a shooter. "Any one of those three can say, 'Don't take the shot'," she said. 

In addition, every effort is taken so that animals are taken humanely, she said.

Bannerman added that no daily numbers are reported; at the end of the operation, a final tally will be given to towns and the Long Island Farm Bureau.

In July, LION protested in Greenport over the use of elephants in the annual circus. The small group of LION animal advocates turned out at the Polo Grounds in Greenport to protest the conditions under which animals are allegedly kept in the circus.

The group protested at each of the  Cole Bros. Circus' scheduled dates.
Teresa L December 30, 2013 at 09:53 AM
We should make a special hunting season for the hunters to feed some Long Island families. Not spend money to hire someone to cull the herd.
Julie Cappiello December 30, 2013 at 02:38 PM
What LION and other advocates have said again and again, the deer population can and will bounce back dramatically, possibly doubling or even tripling the population. It is a well-documented fact. Short term programs should not be looked at and instead long-term non-lethal programs should be implemented. I am ashamed to say that Long Island is holding the largest federal deer cull in state history and that non-lethal methods are not being implemented prior to even discussion of a USDA sharpshooting program. Killing will not solve the problem. Thank you to all those who have spoken out in favor of alternative non-lethal methods and I sincerely hope town officials will re-think their plan.
barbara d December 30, 2013 at 04:43 PM
Llook at the success of other states where culling has proven to be ineffective. Other methods are being used and are showing great success. Maryland's first deer sterilization program at Wildlife Rescue, Inc. [www.wildliferescueinc.org], great results and reduced costs.

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