FI deer management plan approved

Photo by Mark MacNish

FI deer management plan approved

Story By: LIZ FINNEGAN
5/19/2016


FIRE ISLAND—Earlier this month, the National Park Service approved a plan to handle the deer on the barrier island. The White Tail Deer Management Plan though, which had been met with considerable controversy since it was first announced, continues to draw criticism. That’s because the 67-page final Record of Decision that was released on May 3 still includes, among a number of other methods of control, a hunt to kill deer in The Wilderness section of the island. 

Marija Beqaj, a year-round resident of Ocean Beach, says there is a better way: immunocontraception. This method was discussed in an article that appeared in this newspaper earlier this year (“FINS deer management plan sparks ire,” Feb. 4, 2016). At the time, Beqaj explained that in 1995, she and volunteers from the island’s 17 communities had been involved with a cooperative experimental study with the Fire Island National Seashore. Special permit had been given for the use of the contraceptive PZP (procine zona pellucida) to control the deer population that she says was very successful. She and others would like to see that system used once again. “We don’t want our deer killed,” she noted.

PZP is not a hormone, but rather a protein that when injected produces antibodies on the immune system that bind to membranes surrounding the eggs, blocking sperm so fertilization does not take place. One dose, which is delivered by dart, can be effective for up to two years after which boosters are recommended. However, PZP has not yet been approved by the Environmental Protection Agency for use on deer in the United States except by special permit, although it has been approved for use on feral horses and burros.

Elizabeth Rogers, spokesperson for Fire Island National Seashore, said that a hunt to kill would only occur in the seven-mile stretch of land just east of the Sunken Forest known as The Wilderness, far away from any inhabited communities.  Still, she also noted that hunting is only one aspect of a very integrated plan. “No one tool will help us solve this complex problem,” she said. She noted that contraception would be explored even though there is not yet one drug that’s federally approved for it.

FINS says the prevailing problem is an increasing deer population that feeds off of vegetation, which has had a devastating effect on Fire Island’s eco-sensitive Sunken Forest as well as the William Floyd Estate in Shirley. In the aforementioned previous article, FINS superintendent Chris Soller said, “We’re trying to manage a balanced ecosystem. We can’t allow one species to dominate over another.” Soller was not available for comment on the Record of Decision.

It is estimated that the deer population is currently around 100 per square mile, which is around 75 more than what is considered acceptable. Still, Rogers explained that although all methods listed in the plan would be used, FINS remains focused on fencing. “Fencing,” she said, “is our highest priority,” adding that FINS is awaiting funding to pay for the 8-to-10-foot barriers that would primarily be placed around globally significant vegetation in the Sunken Forest.

However, there might even be some problems with that plan—legal problems.

Anita Austenberg Shotwell, vice president and managing trustee of Wildlife Preserves Inc., said her organization, which is a stakeholder in the property where the Sunken Forest is located, opposes any plan that involves hunting in or around that parcel or disturbing the deer in any way. 

Wildlife Preserves Inc. is a nonprofit land conservation corporation that works to protect open spaces for wildlife. They strictly prohibit hunting, fishing and trapping on acquired property.

In the 1950s, when there was talk about possible development on Fire Island, 29 of the 44 acres in the Sunken Forest that were privately owned had been donated to that organization for preservation. Wildlife Preserves then turned over the property to FINS with certain stipulations. “There is a deed restriction on donated property,” Shotwell said. “So far, the park service has been a good steward of that property,” she added. “But we want to make sure they are adhering to the terms of the deed.”

Shotwell said that the language in the approved deer management plan remains confusing and she has been unsuccessful in trying to get it clarified. She said not adhering to those terms, though, could mean that the property would have to be returned to her organization.

Beqaj said that she and many others are determined to prevent any plan that includes killing deer from happening. She noted that there are over 4,000 signatures on a petition that specifically expresses opposition to that form of culling and would seek out any means of stopping it.

“We will even go to court,” she said.