Hunting season is open in Huntington, though local farmers and residents are at odds over whether the town will soon allow special permits for bowhunting on deer after the season ends.
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation currently allows for people to apply for Deer Damage Permits that would allow residents to hunt deer if they can show the animals are negatively impacting agriculture, horticulture, biodiversity or are a threat to human health and safety. The Town of Huntington currently does not allow for these licenses, but some local farmers have been lobbying the town to let them apply for one.
“I’m trying to keep this business alive for my grandchildren,” said Bruce Tilden, the operator of Tilden Lane Farm in Greenlawn. “If it were a bug I could spray it, if it were a rat I could trap it, but because it’s Bambi, I can’t do anything about it.”
Tilden said that his farm, which sells Christmas trees, has had problems of deer rubbing the bark off his trees and doing damage to saplings for many years, mostly before the deer hunting season opens up Oct. 1. He said he had called the DEC but was told he could not apply for a DDP because the Huntington town code prohibits it.
Residents living on the edge of wooded property feel giving local hunters the potential to hunt beyond the normal season could only exacerbate what they see is close-proximity hunting going on near their homes. Several Asharoken and Eaton’s Neck residents spoke in an open hearing during a town board meeting Oct. 10 about their issues with longbow hunters near their homes.
“With these permits the danger of hunting would exist all year long” Eaton’s Neck resident Christine Ballow said. “If this is all year long you have a much higher risk for the community… Instead of hunting we could neuter the bucks.”
In 2015, the Huntington town board voted to allow longbow hunting of deer on private property throughout the town during the regular longbow hunting season Oct. 1 to Jan. 31. The hunting still requires a DEC permit.
State regulations also require hunters to be 150 feet from other private property. Though for some like Asharoken resident Cindy Gavel the footage between her and hunters is not enough to provide safety for herself or for the kids in the community.
“It’s ridiculous how many tree stands are in this neighborhood,” Gavel said. “You can’t even feel safe to walk down the street.”
In 2016, Gavel watched as a buck with an arrow in its back leaped her backyard fence before moving into her yard and bleeding to death.
“If they would change the regulations to be 500 feet from private property it would not affect hunters,” she said.
Other nearby townships have enforced greater footage between property and deer hunters. In December 2017, East Quogue-based hunting advocacy group Hunters for Deer sued The Town of Smithtown over its maximum limitations of 500 feet between hunters and private property, saying it was illegal, inconsistent with DEC regulations and that it restricted deer hunting in many parts of the town. A New York State Supreme Court judge dropped the case saying the town was in their right to restrict the footage, according to court filings. The hunting group announced on their Facebook page they would appeal.
“If it were a bug I could spray it, if it were a rat I could trap it, but because it’s Bambi, I can’t do anything about it.”
— Bruce Tilden
A spokesperson for the state DEC said that 135 DDPs have been issued in Suffolk County in 2018 and that any complaints about permits or hunting can be sent to the NYS Environmental Conservation Police for investigation.
Ballow asked the town council why Huntington wasn’t considering making the proposed law restricted to commercial farmers alone, but Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said the change in town code was to bring the town into accordance with current DEC and state law, and that it should only apply to farmers who need to deal with deer outside the regular hunting season.
“It’s allowing farmers to get special waivers to take care of their property,” Lupinacci said.
Councilwoman Joan Cergol (D) said she wished the town council would spend more time reviewing any issues with the new law regarding who could apply for a DDP.
“I question what constitutes a ‘farmer,’” Cergol said. “Is it people with a backyard vegetable garden? We should tighten it to provide clarity — see what we can do to find middle ground.”
Lupinacci said that while the local law does not allow these licenses, the state DEC could issue DDP licenses despite town code. Huntington Town Attorney Nicholas Ciappetta said he believed the DEC could do that, but as far as he knew they haven’t yet.
“The state law trumps the town code in the case there are any inconsistencies, so they could disregard the town code,” Ciappetta said. “But they haven’t so far.”
The board did not give an exact date on when the code change would come to a vote.
Correction: Christine Ballow’s quote was changed to reflect more of her original argument.