Village of Sag Harbor to vote on deer hunting ban

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By Jessica Chin and Kara Burnett

The Village of Sag Harbor will vote on December 13 to allow deer hunting on private property after introducing the new legislation yesterday at its village board meeting, the town clerk said. In the past month, the village has changed its position three times on its ban of deer hunting on private property.

The village hasn’t actually changed the law back yet…” Christian Killoran, the vice-president and lawyer for Hunters for Deer, said.“[The village attorney] told me they have it on work session, to put forward new legislation that will permit bow hunting within the village parameters [on private property].”

Hunters for Deer, a East Quogue-based nonprofit that connects deer hunters with private property owners, first challenged the old legislation that banned bow hunting in the village this past month.

The village claimed the nonprofit was violating village laws when one of its hunters was hunting deer on a client’s backyard but the group argued that New York State Environmental Conservation law permits them, with the homeowner’s consent, to hunt on private property.

“Our argument was that the village cannot supersede state law, the state is responsible for regulating the deer population,” Michael Tessitore, the President of Hunters for Deer, said. “The state can preempt … and they can basically say the village cannot regulate hunting.”

The former village attorney Fred Thiele, had agreed not to enforce the hunting ban after hearing the group’s argument, Christian Killoran, the vice-president and lawyer for Hunters for Deer, said. However, shortly after, one of the group’s hunters was issued a ticket from village police.

The sport of deer hunting is met with negative opposition from animal rights groups.

“To be a deer is to live a life of total terror and suffering,” Bill Crain, president of the East Hampton Group for Wildlife, said. “We need to have more respect for other living beings. They have families, they want to live life, they play, they form bonds and they look out for each other in times of danger.”

Beside hunters, some environmental groups see deer hunting as necessary to prevent damage to the forest ecology. Overpopulation of deer precludes generational tree regeneration which results in further ecological damages.

“This loss has not only repercussions for the trees but everything that depends on those trees: the insects, the small mammals, the bird species…don’t survive,” Michael Scheibel, the natural resources manager for the Nature Conservancy at the Mashomack Preserve which does annual deer culls, said. “You can really say deer are responsible for the overall reduction of the diversity of life in our area.”

Although the high population of deer has caused damage to the ecosystem in Long Island, they provide benefits in smaller groups, scientists who focus on deer and their effects on the Northeastern ecosystem say.

“In small numbers they are good pruners of fast growing species. At high abundance there is not much benefit, other than for hunters and ticks,” Dr. Bernd Blossey, professor of natural resources at Cornell University and a known deer expert, said. “And in heavily over browsed areas, much lower deer populations are needed until plant populations recover.”

Tessitore said that the next step after Sag Harbor’s reversal is to challenge other village laws that seek to regulate hunting.

“There’s still the issue in New York State about villages being able to regulate firearms and hunting,” Tessitore said.

Tessitore hopes the group’s actions will force the Department of Environmental Conservation to align with hunters.

“So, what you’re going to see in the next few weeks is that we’re going to end up suing a village, which has a ‘no hunting’ law. And, we’re hoping to change the way, villages are able to regulate hunting.”