Wildlife wars: Suburbanites clash over deer, coyotes
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Wildlife wars: Suburbanites clash over deer, coyotes

FROM Mark Lungariello, Lohud.com
March 2015

Animal advocates rally around deer, coyotes as their abundance worries residents.

Angie Johnson said the deer loiter in her yard in Rye every day, 10 to 20 at a time.

She wants them dead.

"I almost hit one on my driveway this week," she said. "They're not scared of me anymore so they just kind of stand there."

Johnson asked officials at a City Hall "deer management summit" last weekwhether it would be legal to have bow hunters on her property kill them. Officials said it seemed to be within the law as long as she waits until hunting season in October and gets the proper permits and tags.

Communities across the region are contending with a deer population that has been growing for decades without the threat of natural predators like cougars, bobcats and wolves. Only coyotes remain in the area and those animals have found themselves no more welcomed by residents, some of whom want them killed because of the potential danger they pose to small pets and children.

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Rye, South Nyack: Coyote sightings spark warnings

But government-backed slaughtering of wildlife does not happen easily in an area teeming with suburban development and vocal animal activists calling hunting a "savage" outdated practice.

"Don't interfere with nature, it'll balance itself," said Joan Kaiser, a Yonkers resident who attended Rye's deer summit. "It knows more than you do."

Rockland County formed a task force in 2012 to look at deer control and it recommended adopting a policy similar to Westchester County's, in which limited bow hunting of deer is allowed in some county parks. Rockland has yet to adopt a policy not due to humanitarian backlash, but financial considerations for a program that will require spending for staffing and other costs, said R. Allan Beers, coordinator for Rockland's Division of Environmental Resources.

"Until funding is secured, there is going to be no program," Beers said. "I would say it's a concern that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later."

With polarizing views from potential members about whether coyotes posed a threat or should co-exist with residents, New Castle created not one, but two advisory groups: The Coyote Awareness & Safety Committee and the Coyote Management Task Force.

The task force took some hits on social media platforms from some who expected their recommendations to be trapping or killing the animals. Jill Shapiro, the town administrator read a letter from the group.

"Unfortunately, before we even had the chance to present our findings and recommendations, our plan was characterized as a coyote jihad, a draconian killing plan, death maps, a brutal kill plan, misguided and hateful trapping all before our plan had ever been presented," the letter said.

Victoria Alzapiedi, of the safety committee, said the amount of reported encounters was overstated in the town with more than 30 reported dog bites to one or two reported run-ins with coyotes per year.

"Who do we want to be?" she said. "What do we want our kids to see? The kids are paying attention." The Town Board posted online presentations by both groups on its website and said it would discuss the concerns further in the coming months while both groups will follow state regulations on the matter. Trapping or other kill programs would need state approval.

Even the Bedford Audubon Society, which represents northern Westchester and eastern Putnam, supported efforts to reduce the deer population so as to promote forest regeneration. Tait Johannson, naturalist at the society, said the number of deer are "unquestionably" affecting biodiversity.

"You can see the browse lines," he said, noting that plant life grows more above the 4-feet mark out of reach of deer. There are sparse trees in area nature preserves and many trees don't live to maturity, he said. "It's affecting diversity to a vast extent."

Beers said Rockland County has similar concerns and believes the water supply could be affected through increased erosion and saltation as a result of deer over-grazing on plant life.

A widely acceptable amount of deer is usually about 10 to 15 per square mile, but unofficial surveys or Rye's land found many more than that wandering in the area this month. On Feb. 16, parks officials went by ground, driving through trails in county-owned Marshlands Conservancy in Rye and spotted 48 deer and another 26 in the Greenhaven neighborhood.

The following day, they flew out on the county police helicopter and used infrared night-vision goggles. They spotted fewer, 21 in total, but for an area that is less than 1 square mile and only 173 acres it is a larger-than-usual amount of deer and in an area with more development and homes closer together than in the northern part of Westchester.

Westchester is now considering allowing a limited number of hunters onto the Marshlands. Only bow hunting is allowed in the county, although Mamaroneck and Rye officials discussed the potential of hiring sharpshooters who would lure deer and use firearms, similar to a program used at Teatown Reservation in Yorktown recently.

Relocation is an option the state Department of Environmental Conservation would back, and Hastings' sterilization program is now just a test program, with its long-term effectiveness and annual costs a concern if adopted elsewhere.

Mamaroneck and Rye officials said they are creating a deer-management committee and looking to include members from other municipalities.

Rye Mayor Joe Sack said the deer-management summit was held with the assumption that deer are a problem that needs to be managed.

"I don't think that there are many people that would want to eradicate all deer in Rye and the area," Sack said. "At the same time I think there are probably only a few people who'd say we don't want to touch a hair on a deer's head. I think the majority of people would fall somewhere in the middle."

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