FIRE ISLAND—A lawsuit against the National Park Service and superintendent of Fire Island National Seashore, K. Christopher Soller, was filed last week by an attorney for two wildlife protection groups: Animal Welfare Institute and Wildlife Preserves Inc. Information on the suit, which was released last Thursday, claims that by implementing a Wildlife Management Plan, which includes the killing of white-tailed deer, Soller is in violation of deed restrictions on the land that had been donated to the government in order to protect the natural habitat and wildlife there.
Last year, the NPS approved a plan to handle deer on the barrier island, which was documented in this newspaper (“FI deer management plan approved,” May 19, 2016). However, the aforementioned wildlife group and many residents on Fire Island opposed the 67-page White-tailed Deer Management Plan. Rather than allowing a hunt, they recommended culling the deer with contraception.
Marija Beqai, a year-round resident of Ocean Beach, explained the better option for deer control in an article that also appeared in this newspaper (“FINS deer management plan sparks ire,” Feb. 4, 2016). Beqai explained that in 1995, she was among the volunteers from the island’s 17 communities that took part in a cooperative experimental study with FINS, where a contraceptive PZP (procine zona pellucida) was used with great success. Renewing that method was something FINS at the time said they’d explore, but did not pursue.
However, a hunt, which FINS said would only occur in the 7-mile stretch east of Sunken Forest in the Wilderness section of the island, would be only one aspect of the plan. Another feature includes fencing around significant vegetation now endangered by the feeding deer. And that’s where the lawsuit comes in.
In the May 2016 article, Anita Austenberg Shotwell, vice president and managing trustee of Wildlife Preserves Inc., said that those options are not acceptable. “There is a deed restriction on donated property,” she said.
Tara Zuardo, an attorney for Wildlife Preserves Inc., recently noted in a telephone interview that when the owner of the property turned the land over to the NPS in 1966, the covenants that were put in place were never expected to expire. “The restrictions were to remain in place,” she said. And even though public comment on the proposed management plan was invited in 2014 and it was followed up with a letter explaining those covenants, Zuardo said they did not receive a response back from the park service until September 2016, a few months after the plan was adopted.
“They said there were too many deer and that culling needed to happen to preserve Sunken Forest,” said Zuardo. “But you can’t ignore deed restrictions. It was written very specifically to preserve this area.”
Soller said in a telephone interview this Dec. 1 that he received the same press release on the lawsuit, but had not been officially served. “I haven’t seen any papers,” he said. He referred only to the Deer Management Plan, while indicating that the covenants would be upheld in those protected areas.
For more information on the White-tailed Deer Management Plan, go to www.nps.gov/fiis/learn/management/deer-management-plan.htm.
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