The East Hampton Group for Wildlife, which already filed suit against the town, village, and town trustees, has organized a "No Cull" rally and demonstration, scheduled to begin at the Hook Mill bion Saturday at 1 p.m.
"We want to express, in a visible way, the depth of opposition to the deer cull," said Bill Crain, a Montauk resident and the founder for the East Hampton Group for Wildlife. "Every day I receive emails from East Hampton residents who say they are 'appalled' and 'sickened' by the plan to use sharpshooters to kill hundreds of deer. They ask, 'How can I help stop this?'"
The Long Island Farm Bureau secured $250,000 in grant funding to embark upon the United State Department of Agriculture's sharpshooter program to reduce the number of deer on the East End and in the Town of Brookhaven. The goal is to eliminate 2,000 to 3,000 deer in one of the largest government deer removals ever undertaken.
The program was estimated to cost about $500,000, with towns and villages agreeing to participate and provide additional funding. Riverhead Town is the only town so far to opt out of the program, though the Town of Southampton is still undecided.
Craine said there has there has been much enthusiasm for the demonstration so far.
"Public officials have talked about a 'deer emergency' and 'epidemic,' but the available data suggest that the East Hampton deer population may well be declining," he said, pointing to a ground survey his group commissioned in 2006 that estimated there were 3,293 deer. The town-commissioned aerial survey counted 877.
"Despite different methodologies, the surveys point to population reduction. It’s possible that a cull could devastate the deer population in our town," Crain said.
Those who want to speak out against the deer cull planned in East Hampton will gather at the Hook Mill in the village on Jan. 18 at 1 p.m. and march in single file along the sidewalks to Herrick Park, where they will stand for 20 to 30 minutes facing Newtown Lane.
Crain knew of no other rallies planned on the East End, as he said he has only heard from one resident outside of East Hampton.
Others plan to join the rally, including Long Island Orchestrating for Nature.The new group of deer advocates has joined the growing army rising up in opposition to a proposed East End sharpshooter program aimed at culling the deer herd.
Since the program was first discussed in Southold, thousands have signed a petition in protest, and hunters have spoken out against the plan.
LION has blasted the proposed program: John Di Leonardo, president of LION, said he believes legal action is necessary and said alternatives to the sharpshooter program should be considered.
"The USDA Wildlife services is truly a sham," Di Leonardo said, adding that to sign a contract with them rather than listen to residents who are crying out for alternatives is a "travesty."
He added that if the program takes place as scheduled, "there is likely to be much more protest. I am hopeful legal action stops this slaughter in its tracks," Di Leonardo said.
"Wildlife services is just a killing agency that hopes to keep the long-term problem alive so that they can keep returning to take more tax-payer money every year. They care nothing about Long Islanders, whether those Islanders are human or wildlife."
Carol Bannerman, the USDA Wildlife media representative for the issue, said the focus of the marksman program is to maintain "a safe, humane and effective operation."
Before the USDA will enter a community, permits must be issued by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and private property owners must give permission for marksmen to proceed on their land.
No human injuries have ever been noted as a result of the USDA's program, she said.
"People say we're a killing agency, but we are more like a chasing agency," she said. "We do a lot of chasing animals away."
In 2012, the agency chased away 2.3 million animals, or 97 percent of those doing damage, in New York State, and of those lethally removed, 68 percent were European starlings, an invasive species. Only four animals out of 69,000 were killed by mistake, she said.
The USDA is not fond of the term "sharpshooter," Bannerman said, and prefers the word "marksman." "It gives this image of people in a black uniform, skulking through the woods."
All marksmen have a BA in wildlife biology, and have been had criminal background and drug checks, as well have experience in firearms.
"All of these elements are designed for safety," Bannerman said. "People say we are baiting poor little deer. But that's because we bait in a place where we can have a downward shot, so there is no chance there would be pass-through and something else might be hit."
Each team has three members, Bannerman said; a driver, a spotter, and a shooter. "Any one of those three can say, 'Don't take the shot'," she said.
In addition, every effort is taken so that animals are taken humanely, she said.
Bannerman added that no daily numbers are reported; at the end of the operation, a final tally will be given to towns and the Long Island Farm Bureau.
In July, LION protested in Greenport over the use of elephants in the annual circus. The small group of LION animal advocates turned out at the Polo Grounds in Greenport to protest the conditions under which animals are allegedly kept in the circus. The group protested at each of the Cole Bros. Circus' scheduled dates.
Meanwhile, on Thursday, at an informational meeting in Southold with the USDA aimed at educating the public about the sharpshooter program, residents in attendance spoke out overwhelmingly in favor of the plan. Local hunters, however, asked that they be able to handle the deer crisis without federal intervention.
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