Rallying to save wildlife
John Di Leonardo, of the animal rights group LION, lent his support at the protest rally.


Rallying to save wildlife


LONG ISLAND—Approximately 30 protestors braved the single-digit temperatures last Friday morning on behalf of wildlife preservation. They gathered at the Fire Island National Seashore headquarters in Patchogue to show their opposition to a wildlife management plan that includes a deer hunt in the wilderness section of the barrier island and also at the William Floyd estate in Shirley. Armed with posters showing the object of their concern and a bullhorn, they shouted out their commitment to stop the proposed plan while touting the importance of immunocontraception. They say that method is not only more humane, but also more effective in controlling the numbers of deer in their communities.

“You don’t [kill] your neighbors,” said Robert Sherman of Seaview. “There are better ways to [control deer].”

 Most of those who had gathered are either part-time or year-round residents in the communities on Fire Island. Some of them took part in a special project over 25 years ago that brought volunteers to work beside FINS personnel that involved darting deer with the contraceptive PZP. Marija Beqaj was a volunteer back then and now says she and many others are willing to repeat that original program.

The contraceptive is not a hormone, but rather a protein that when injected produces antibodies in the immune system that bind to the membranes surrounding the eggs, blocking sperm so that fertilization does not take place. Though it is still not federally approved for use in deer, it is used successfully in this country and internationally in controlling wild horses and burros.  FINS had received a special permit to use PZP back in the 1990s when the white-tailed deer population exploded. It could receive a special permit once again to repeat that experiment.

However, that cooperative effort between residents and FINS resulted in mixed reviews. Even though several articles written about the experiment confirm good results, Chris Soller, FINS superintendent, said that it was only effective in areas where deer tend to remain and are fed regularly, but not in free-roaming deer that are difficult to track. 

Last Friday, several of the protestors wondered if darting was even necessary this time around.

 “I think the numbers are down,” said Richard Von Zerneck of Fair Harbor, remarking that many deer drowned during Superstorm Sandy in 2012. 

“The reality is, there is no accurate count,” he added, noting that FINS had promised to have a post-Sandy recount in 2014, which has yet to be done.

FINS spokesperson Elizabeth Rogers said that the deer were definitely counted in 2014 and it was those results that were used in the final draft of the wildlife management plan report.

“There is a count done every single year,” she said, adding that the results of the most recent count are available on the FINS website: www.nps.gov/FIIS.

That plan was submitted for approval on Jan. 8, and after a one-month moratorium, which was up last week, a decision is expected shortly. Rogers said she expects to hear a decision in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, impassioned voices continue to oppose the plan.

At the gathering, John Di Leonardo of the animal rights group LION (Long Island Orchestrating for Nature) led the group in shouting: “Immunocontraception, Not Slaughter” as the crowd held oversized photos of deer aloft, the images inscribed with the slogan: “Not Ours to Kill.”

Di Leonardo said he was contacted by a Fire Island resident about this issue and decided to lend his support to their fight.

“They’re very concerned [about the deer],” he said. “People are now starting to speak out about animal abuse,” noting that the highly publicized opposition to the slaughter of Cecil the lion last year served to further galvanize an interest in protecting animals. “This [plan] is no less egregious. People should be equally outraged,” Di Leonardo said. 

“There’s so much violence in the world,” remarked Christina Helbig of Kismet. “What is this telling our children, the next generation? We need to pay attention to what happens today. This is going to traumatize a lot of people,” she added.

“The deer have a right to be on Fire Island,” said Beqaj. “We all have a right and obligation to stand up for what’s right. Killing [deer] is not right.”