By Timothy Bolger
An animal rights group filed a lawsuit that aims to kill the Fire Island National Seashore’s plan to use hunters to cull the population of white-tailed deer on the barrier island.
Friends of Animals, a New Yorkbased nonprofit, is asking a federal judge to nix the planned deer hunt on the grounds that FINS, a unit of the National Park Service, allegedly broke the law by failing to follow protocol when it concocted the idea – an accusation that the agency denies.
“The National Park Service failed to consider a non-lethal alternative that focuses on curtailing human activity to address concerns with deer on Fire Island,” the nonprofit said in the lawsuit it filed Oct. 28, 2016 at U.S. District Court in Central Islip.
It wouldn’t be the first time hunters have been deployed to cull an overpopulation of deer on Long Island. In 2013, federal sharpshooters killed 192 on the East End of LI, although that was far fewer than 3,000 originally in crosshairs. Other Long Island municipalities have also considered approving deer hunts to control their population in recent years.
FINS previously held two hunts in the 1980s that bagged a total of about 64 deer, according to reports in The New York Times at the time. A deer birth control program hatched in the ‘90s was discontinued in 2009. Now, an estimated 300 deer reportedly live on the island.
FINS Superintendent Chris Soller and NPS were both named as defendants in the lawsuit. The U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York is defending both, but John Marzulli, a spokesman for the legal agency, declined to comment on the lawsuit. In court papers, lawyers for Soller and NPS denied the activists’ allegations.
“The mitigation of human activity may not be enough to reverse impacts already incurred, and further intervention may be justified,” the government’s lawyers wrote in court papers. They asked the judge to dismiss the suit.
In FINS’ nearly 500-page deer management plan approved last year despite protests of other animal rights groups based on FI, the agency noted that the hunt was needed because the abundance of deer – which lack local predators to naturally control their population – are destroying the habitat, such as the Sunken Forrest, an extremely rare maritime holly forest. Besides hunting, the plan also called for the use of fencing and dousing deer with birth control.
The suit asks the judge to set aside the plan as “as arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with the law.” It claims that the plan violates the National Environmental Policy Act because it “[failed] to take a hard look at the dichotomy in deer dynamics on Fire Island.” The advocates argue that FINS hasn’t done an in-depth study on how deer travel between the east and west ends of the 32-mile long island.
“It is likely that the deer population expanded from remote wilderness areas on the eastern side of Fire Island to the residential and commercial western side because the deer were attracted to artificial food sources in the communities,” they wrote in court documents.
The advocates wrote a letter to U.S. Judge Sandra J. Feuerstein on July 13, urging her to schedule a date to hear oral arguments in the case as soon as possible.
“Friends of Animals believes that the National Park Service may begin culling deer at Fire Island National Seashore under the management plan this coming fall and/or winter,” Michael Harris, a lawyer for the group, wrote. The group “hopes the court is in a position to rule … before that time.”