On the east end of Long Island, town meetings across Suffolk county have been focused on coming up with a solution for what is increasingly being seen as a public health crisis- the growing deer population. Due to habitat loss and an absence of natural predators such as wolves, recent surveys have put the number of deer in Suffolk county at 27,000 with some estimates going as high as 35,000.
Environmentalists believe this number of deer is more than double what the land would be able to support in nature. This means that if the population is left unchecked, many deer may starve. They have also begun migrating into Nassau county and as far west as Queens. They are a major hazard to drivers, and have been responsible for as many as 800 injuries and 1 death in recent traffic accidents.
Deer harbor ticks which can cause Lyme Disease, a dangerous illness. Although they are not the only host of these ticks, the spread of Lyme disease is closely tied to deer populations. To combat this, Shelter Island has launched a successful program to establish deer feeding stations. As the deer feed they are simultaneously dusted with a material that is harmless to them but repels ticks.
The deer are also destroying crops and pose a significant threat to farmers, who often erect 8 foot tall fences to keep them away. Estimates put Suffolk county crop damage due to deer grazing at $3 million. A single deer is capable of consuming 8 pounds of vegetation in a every day and creating 2 pounds of waste. Their waste alone is proving to be an issue, as it can bring bacteria levels in bathing sites and shellfish production centers to unacceptable levels.
Officials are viewing this problem as a public health issue and are considering deer removal to be a matter of pest control. The communities of Suffolk county have been so affected by the disruption that there has been surprisingly little opposition from the public. The planned culling operation will be the largest of its kind in NY State history. Beginning in February and taking place over 40 nights, federal agents equipped with silenced rifles and night vision goggles will begin hunting from perches and blinds to methodically eliminate the overabundance of deer. They are well trained and professional sharp shooters, so they will attempt to euthanize the deer humanely with only shots to the head and neck, or at close range after trapping the animals. As much of the meat as possible will be donated to local food pantries. Officials are also considering changing some regulations to allow hunting closer to private property and removing other hunting restrictions.