A judge has effectively slammed the brakes on a controversial deer cull that has sharply divided North Fork residents.
On Thursday, Judge Joseph C. Teresi of the New York State Supreme Court in Albany granted a temporary restraining order to petitioners — including Bridgehampton resident Wendy Chamberlin of the Wildlife Preservation Coalition — that effectively stops the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation from issuing any further deer damage permits, which were necessary to allow sharpshooters to cull deer on private properties.
The court’s decision does not affect the deer damage permits that have already been issued by the state.
After hearing the decision, Chamberlin said she was “so happy” it was hard to put into words. “I feel utterly serene.”
Moving forward, Chamberlin has called for a revamp of the state’s deer management plan, and the need to begin “integrating the needs of individual areas and municipalities, rather than these sweeping, archaic policies.” There is a need, she said, for individual plans that can be integrated across Long Island.
The TRO, she said, represented a significant victory. “Everyone sould be incredibly proud of themselves. Anyone that was skeptical or cynical that they couldn’t do anything, or chance government policy before this can be very happy and proud of themselves. If you work hard enough, you can — and that’s really good news.”
“It was nice that Judge Joseph C. Teresi was able to see through the wall of secrecy, that runs rampant throughout the NYSDEC,” said Mike Tessitore, of the Hunters for Deer group, whose members have turned out to protest the cull and plea with the town board to allow them to hunt the deer for free. “Unfortunately, there has been no transparency from the NYSDEC as to how many tags have been issued to the already ‘in place permits’ and how many deer have been killed so far. The NYSDEC needs to be held accountable from this day forward and the granting of the TRO says just that.”
According to Patrick Fife, an attorney with Twomey, Latham, Shea, Kelley, Dubin & Quartararo LLP of Riverhead representing the Long Island Farm Bureau — the LIFB and the USDA teamed up to commence the deer cull — said the judge denied a portion of the TRO request that asked for an injunction on any deer damage permits already issued prior to Thursday’s ruling.
As it stands, those with any deer damage permits already issued will be allowed to move forward with the cull. Earlier this week, DEC spokesperson Aphrodite Montalvo said the DEC could not comment on pending litigation but said the agency so far had 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; those permits granted will be allowed to proceed.
The deer cull has been steeped in controversy; earlier this week, a plan to boycott Riverhead and North Fork farms and wineries participating in the cull was unveiled.
The deer cull has incited fiere 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.
A previous lawsuit commenced by Chamberlin to halt the cull was dismissed in court, which denied the plaintiff’s request for a temporary restraining order.
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.”
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.
According to Fife, while the LIFB will abide by the judge’s decision, next steps include heading back to court on March 28 in Albany, when the judge will hear the argument on the request for the preliminary injunction. “We’re going to oppose the request for the preliminary injunction,” Fife said.
The DEC and the LIFB have until March 21 to put their position in writing, Fife said.
Fife added that, due to pending litigation, he could not comment further.
Southold Town Attorney Martin Finnegan noted that Southold was not a party to the action, and that the town’s only resolution had been to allocate $25,000 to the LIFB for the cull.
At a state of the town address Thursday night, Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said the town has long had a deer management program, with the top priority always focused on hunting. The state hunting regulations, he said, need to be relaxed.
And, he said, the need to address the deer situation in Southold remains critical.
“This board is committed to resolving what is a top priority and the largest crisis Southold faces — the overabundance of white-tailed deer,” he said. “We recognize that hunting is a critical component to any future effort. This is a public health, economic and environmental crisis, and action needs to be taken now.