Heated controversy over a sharpshooter program aimed at thinning the deer herd in Southold Town continued to escalate on Monday as animal advocates prepared to head back to court to put the brakes on the plan, which got underway last week — and others planned to boycott Riverhead and North Fork farms and wineries participating in the cull.
The deer cull has incited fierce opposition in recent weeks as both deer advocates and local hunters came before the Southold Town board at their most recent meeting and begged them to reconsider contributing $25,000 to the program, organized by the Long Island Farm Bureau and the United States Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services division.
Last week, a lawsuit commenced by Bridgehampton resident Wendy Chamberlin of the Wildlife Preservation Coalition to halt the cull was dismissed in court, which denied the plaintiff’s request for a temporary restraining order.
Chamberlin, however, has vowed to keep fighting: On Monday, she said plans were in place to head back to court for a temporary restraining on the N.Y. Department of Environmental Conservation, the agency that must grant deer damage permits before USDA sharpshooters can target deer on private property.
Public officials, she said, have lacked transparency, something she said is an “obligation” of their position. “They have been deceptive,” she said. “We’re going to the source, because if we stop the DEC, everything stops.”
Chamberlin said she’s fielded late-night calls from residents who think the sharpshooters are on their land. “They’re in a panic. It’s terrible. It’s out of control now.”
Elected officials and government agencies, Chamberlin said, are causing panic, trauma and stress, something she deems irresponsible.
“We were successful in court last week,” Joe Gergela, executive director of the Long Island Farm Bureau, said. “The judge dismissed the case in its entirety, so if they are going to do anything it will have to be in federal court.”
On the advice of counsel, Gergela said he had no further comment.
DEC spokesperson Aphrodite Montalvo said the DEC could not comment on pending litigation but said the agency so far has granted 12 deer damage permits for the East End deer cull, with six pending. While she would not divulge specific locations, Montalvo said the sites were located in Riverhead, Southold, and Southampton towns.
Some incensed opponents of the cull have vowed to strike back against any business that permits the sharpshooters on their land.
A new Facebook page, “Boycott Southold Wine,” states that members are refusing to buy wine or any agricultural products from farmers or vintners that embrace the cull or allow sharpshooters on their land.
Members of the Hunters for Deer group, who have also pleaded with the Southold Town board to allow them to hunt the land for free — Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said while he supported hunters, state hunting regulations needed to be relaxed before that could happen — have also vowed as an organization to boycott any farmer or winery allowing the cull.
“Any farms or wineries that are using federally funded sharpshooters is on the list of those to be boycotted,” hunter Vinny Pandolfo said.
Kelvin Bryant, another member of Hunters for Deer, added, “I think I speak for all when I say we will not be spending our weekends on the East End shopping for produce or wines.”
Ron Goerler Jr., director and past president of the Long Island Wine Council and owner of Jamesport Vineyards, lashed out at news of the proposed boycott.
“Shame on that organization for making that statement,” he said. “It’s beyond me, as an owner, that somebody comes out and takes a direct stab at private businesses that have been out here for a very long time,” he said. “These businesses have helped to grow this area.”
While Goerler said he did not understand how wineries had even gotten “roped into” the dispute, he said farmers have had issues with deer that threatened their livelihoods. “They have row crops that get destroyed because of the deer,” he said. Of the boycott, he added, “This is a direct attack on our livelihood.”
Russell said Monday that he had no knowledge of any legitimate organized effort to boycott the industries of Southold Town.
“We have been notified that an anonymous multimillionaire has agreed to fund the effort. However, I fail to see how money is pertinent to a boycott. Further, I am unable to determine the legitimacy of the claim without any public comment being made by said individual,” Russell said.
As word spread that the cull had commenced, some residents have expressed fears that all the deer would be killed.
“People are saying, ‘Where are my deer?’ They’re afraid they killed them all,” Chamberlin said.
Carole Bannerman, a public affairs representative from the USDA, has said in previously published statements that the intent of the USDA was never to eradicate any entire species from an area, and that approximately 1,000 would be culled during the project, which is slated to run through late March or early April. She could not specify how many deer have been taken so far.
“At the conclusion of the project, a total of properties and numbers will be provided to the Long Island Farm Bureau,” Bannerman said. “The focus of the project is to reduce damage to agriculture, human health and safety, property and natural resources, so we do not provide numbers during the work.”
Gergela initially asked each of the five East End towns to contribute toward the program; the LIFB garnered a $250,000 grant and was seeking town and village participation.
At a recent town board meeting, Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell has said that the town was 100 percent behind the cull after at least three public forums.
At those forums, residents were overwhelmingly in favor of the cull, as they came to the podium to paint bleak scenarios of lives ravaged by tick-borne deseases and car accidents caused by deer. Many also pointed to the damage to the environment caused by the swelling deer population.
Others, however, have banded in outrage over the cull; in East Hampton, after a public demonstration and vocal outcry, the cull was put off for at least this year.