SOUTHOLD, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) -- An ambitious plan to eliminate about 10 percent of the estimated 30,000 white-tailed deer inundating eastern Long Island, from posh Hamptons estates to agriculturally rich vineyards and vegetable farms, has been severely scaled back following protests and a court challenge by animal welfare advocates, hunters and others.
The plan announced last summer called for the killing of up to 3,000 brown-eyed does and bucks by specially trained sharpshooters equipped with night vision equipment. The proposal by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services division and the Long Island Farm Bureau has since been downgraded to a goal of 1,000 deer.
Federal, state and local officials have said the deer are significantly damaging vegetables and other crops in the state's highest producing agricultural county. They say the deer also are responsible for hundreds of annual motor vehicle accidents and are carriers for ticks that spread Lyme disease.
"It's been absolutely devastating," said Scott Russell, the supervisor of the town of Southold on the northeastern tip of Long Island. "Some people think this is about people trying to protect their gardens; it's far more than that. It's every aspect of our life in Southold is being affected by the overpopulation of white-tailed deer."
Russell said in December that deer have been responsible for 800 injuries and one death in the area. Dr. James Tomarken, Suffolk County's health commissioner, said in October that residents should be concerned about the growing number of Lyme disease cases there.
It now appears Southold may be the only town left in the program after both the town and village of East Hampton dropped out, along with Brookhaven, and other municipalities.
Larry Cantwell, East Hampton's newly elected town supervisor, said that opponents of the culling plan obtained a temporary restraining order in state Supreme Court last week halting East Hampton's participation. That, and questions about the extent of the deer population and other factors, prompted the town to withdraw its support.
"It became evident that we were not going to be able to get this done, whether we wanted to or not," said Cantwell, who said he supports expanding the deer hunting seasons on Long Island. "We need more flexibility from the state to be able to take deer."
Veteran music promoter Ron Delsener, a member of the East Hampton Group for Wildlife that is part of a lawsuit against the town that led to the restraining order, said he is philosophically opposed to the deer culling.
"They're a natural part of the environment,'' said Delsener, who suggested alternatives, such as contraception or sterilization.
Martin Lowney, New York state director of USDA Wildlife Services, has said it would cost $2,000 to sterilize each animal and the procedure would have to be done every two years.
"It's a brutal massive slaughter," said Bill Crain, president of the East Hampton wildlife group. "They would lure them in at nighttime and blast them, focusing on the mothers and the babies. How could we explain this killing to the children who would find out about it? They would lose faith in us as protectors of life."
On the other side of the argument is Southold vineyard owner Regan Meador, who said he and a neighbor recently installed about $40,000 worth of eight-foot fencing around about 60 acres of farmland to keep the deer from destroying their crops.
"It's pretty bad out here. The deer were coming through and causing quite a bit of havoc," said Meador, 34, who supports the cull. "I grew up in Texas where seeing a deer was like seeing a ghost they were so rare. Now living here, these deer just stand and stare at you. I think it's best for them."
Officials have said the venison from the slaughtered deer will go to food banks.
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