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Fire Island National Seashore approved a Deer Management Plan

Now that summer is nearly over, some people are wondering if the National Park Service’s plans for Fire Island deer will be implemented this fall.

In the spring, Fire Island National Seashore approved a Deer Management Plan that includes a number of strategies to control what they say is the overpopulation of deer on the island. However, many year-round and part-time residents to Fire Island are upset because in addition to constructing fencing to keep deer away from sensitive vegetation, that plan involves a public hunt in the Fire Island Wilderness that includes the Sunken Forest. The objectors say both methods are not only inhumane; they violate certain covenants that were placed upon the original deed of the donated property.

The adopted plan was one that was first brought to our readers’ attention earlier this year in the article, “FINS deer management plan sparks ire” (Feb. 4, 2016). The plan is a result of several years of study by the National Park Service looking into ways to protect the ecosystem on the barrier island they claim is being threatened by the overabundance of deer.

That plan was met with fierce opposition and resulted in a petition that eventually garnered more than 5,500 names and a protest on the grounds of the FINS Patchogue office on Feb. 5, 2016. However, Anita Shotwell, a trustee of the New Jersey-based Wildlife Preserves organization that originally held the deed, said any plan that alters the way deer and other wildlife have been using the Sunken Forest is a violation of the initial gift of the land.

“The [gift] 60 years ago was primarily driven by residents who wanted to preserve that property,” said Shotwell, adding that restrictions noted that none of the wildlife could be disrupted. Those covenants were kept in place when the property was turned over to FINS in 1966.

“Our attorney sent a note [to FINS] indicating that all of those activities [in the plan] would be prohibited in the deed,” she said, indicating that even the suggested use of fencing off the vegetation would be considered harmful to the wildlife. However, Shotwell said the attorney’s letter, which was sent in June, has not been acknowledged by FINS.

Chris Soller, superintendent of FINS since 2010, said he is well aware of deed restrictions. He said that no hunt is planned at this time, and if the plan is implemented it would take place in the Fire Island Wilderness, which is 10 miles east of the deeded property. “There was never a plan to hunt deer in the Sunken Forest,” he said. However, fencing is being considered once funding is approved – something he said is allowed as per the donors of the property in 1966, Sunken Forest Inc. “We have an agreement with them,” he added.

Marija Beqai, a year-round resident of Ocean Beach who generated the last petition, said she has been circulating another petition to keep the public aware of this ongoing issue. “The first petition worked,” she remarked, noting that the original plan had been to also kill deer in the communities, which has since changed. “They backed down.”

Beqai said that the second petition was informational to both residents and visitors because, “no one knew what was going on.”  

Earlier this year, Soller said, “We’re trying to manage a balanced ecosystem. We can’t allow one species to dominate over another.”

Beqai said she has a solution for that: immunocontraception. In the 1990s, Beqai was involved in a cooperative experimental study between FINS and volunteers from the island’s communities. At that time, the contraceptive PZP (procine zona pellucida) had been used with great success in curbing the deer population on Fire Island. However, FINS abandoned that method of control in 2009. Beqai believes it is a much more humane method of controlling the number of deer that is effective.

Soller said that the experiment in contraception had only mixed results, and besides that, the drug PZP has not yet been approved for use in deer by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. However, it could be used by special permit once again.

Beqai said that in addition to not wanting island deer hunted, she’s also concerned about the fact that FINS indicates meat from a hunt could be donated to homeless shelters and food pantries. “The meat could be poison,” she said, and went on to explain how seasonal residents will often put down rat poison in the spring before coming to the island and then again in the fall just before leaving. The deer unknowingly eat the poison. Aside from resulting in a painful death for some, the poison could be passed on to people ingesting the meat.

Pat Hackett of Manhattan, a frequent visitor to Fire Island, is concerned about the poisoning as well, but is also disturbed about the possibility of a hunt. “I got to love the deer on Fire Island,” she said, and does not want to see them killed.

“The public meetings that were held were poorly publicized. Everybody is in the dark about this. They didn’t make the deeds public. [FINS] knows what they did is violating the legal conditions of the deed,” Hackett said. 

Shotwell notes that ultimately, if the covenants are not adhered to, the property would automatically revert back to the original owners, Wildlife Preserve.

“Our goal is not to take back the property,” Shotwell said. ”We’re hoping to get some sort of a dialogue with the park service to prevent costly litigation. We just want to make sure the property is being cared for the way the donors intended 60 years ago.”

FINS released the following statement: “Fire Island National Seashore’s Deer Management Plan has been approved, but there are currently no plans for any direct reductions activities in the near future. In other words, there is no pending deer hunt.

“The timing of management actions proposed in the plan, such as fencing, sharpshooting, and a public hunt in wilderness, has yet to be determined and depend on funding and logistics.” 

Soller later said that he’s frustrated by the complaints and concerns. “It doesn’t matter [to them] what we say about [the plans],” he noted.

No one seems to be buying that statement, though. “If it’s in writing, then they can start. They are just looking for funding,” Shotwell said. 

“A plan on paper gives [FINS] license to do this in perpetuity,” added Hackett.

Beqai said she hopes something can be resolved soon, before any damage is done. “[Hunting] will change the perception of this wonderful place,” she said.

Those who object to the hunt please follow link to petition below

 or call  631 687 4751, 215 597 7059 to stop the hunt