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Deer

A buck spotted on a lawn in Port Jefferson. Photo by Phil Shiavone

Drivers are regularly reminded that deer populations along the North Shore of Long Island are increasing as many of the animals graze alongside or dart across roadways. Some of these encounters unfortunately end in collisions. With deer and people on the move during the busy holiday season, TBR News Media is taking a look at issues to hopefully curb the impact.

Deer are spotted all over the North Shore. The one above is seen near Old Homestead Road in Belle Terre, Port Jefferson. Photo by Phil Schiavone

Destruction of vegetation

Christina Maffia, who has lived in Old Field South for 18 years, said she sees deer on her property every day, sometimes a lone buck and other times two or three animals. She described her property as “once lush, green, temperate forest that has been reduced to bare limbs below 5 feet.” She said her perennials don’t grow back due to being continuously eaten.

The appearance of depleted vegetation coincided with the arrival of the deer a few years ago. She said her neighborhood had been planted back when Frank Melville established the neighborhood in 1929. The grounds in Old Field South were designed by the landscape architecture firm of Frederick Law Olmsted, which also designed Central Park.

“These plantings are considered historical,” she said. “It’s such a shame that the historical part of this area that made it so beautiful is now being compromised.”

Maffia has sprayed her plants with a product called Deer Off, which incorporates rotten eggs in the ingredients. It deters deer, she said, but her experience has been that whenever it rains or she runs the sprinklers, she needs to reapply the product which she uses around the perimeter of her property.

The Village of Old Field recently sent an email to residents encouraging them to use deer repellent on their properties. Village officials reminded homeowners that a new generation of deer will establish their own feeding trails this time of the year. Because of these new trails, “it is a good time of year to use repellents to redirect these trails before they become solidly developed,” the village said.

According to the village email, deer repellent means less plant damage during fall and winter, and fewer deer in the village.

Kathy Schiavone, of Port Jefferson, said she and her husband also have problems with their landscaping due to the deer.

“We had tried the various remedies that have been suggested and have come to the conclusion that we will no longer buy and plant flowers to ornament our yard,” she said. “We did replace a number of yews with Japanese plum yews, which the deer do not bother. We had done this about five years ago. So far, so good.”

According to the DEC’s website, among the food deer prefer are cedar, sassafras, wintergreen, yew, mountain maple, flowering dogwood and more. A list of other vegetation they feed on can be found at www.dec.ny.gov/animals/7195.html.

There is evidence that deer are also altering forests across New York, according to the DEC. This can reduce diversity in the forest understory, enable invasive species to outcompete natives and prevent seedlings of many species from growing into the next generation of trees.

A couple of deer spotted on a lawn in Belle Terre, below. Photo by Jean Thomas

Lyme disease

Maffia and Schiavone said they are concerned about deer ticks and contracting Lyme disease due to the increased population of deer. Both have friends and neighbors who have suffered from the tick-borne disease. Schiavone said she also knows four people who have contracted babesiosis, three of whom had to be hospitalized. Maffia said she had one neighbor with Lyme disease who later got Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Another was hospitalized with a severe inflammation around his heart caused by Lyme disease.

“It’s not just aesthetics anymore,” Maffia said. “It’s people being impacted by the deer.”

Nancy Irvolino has lived near Brooksite Drive in Smithtown for more than 40 years and has noticed an increase of the animals in the area.

“Sometimes they are on the side [of Brooksite], but a lot of times they run out at night in front of my car and I slam the brakes,” she said.

While Blydenburgh County Park abuts the lane she lives on, she said it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that she started seeing deer walking down her street and eating plants. Recently, she has seen them every night near her house.

Irvolino said she worries about herself and her dogs contracting Lyme disease and doesn’t even walk in the park due to it.

According to the DEC website, deer are the primary food source for adult female ticks and reduction of deer populations to very low levels may reduce tick densities and infection rates.

The Village of Old Field email to residents claimed that deer over time can carry thousands of ticks.

Solutions

Villages across the North Shore are debating the best way to cull the herds.

“My hope is that our elected officials will realize the overabundance of deer is an important enough public issue to take action against,” Schiavone said.

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) is currently working to present a townwide forum on deer with the DEC in the near future, according to her office.

Belle Terre allows bow hunting, and Head of the Harbor last year joined Avalon Park & Preserve in Stony Brook with a contraceptive vaccine experiment to help with deer management. The DEC supports the use of sharpshooters, who aim for an instant kill, so the animal doesn’t suffer and also advocates donating the meat to food banks.

“I am not a fan of hunting just for the sake of demonstrating one’s prowess in killing any animal,” Schiavone said. “I have been convinced by information I have gotten that culling is the answer.”

Maffia, who has been a vegetarian for 30 years, agreed.

“At this point, because there are no natural predators, they’re attacking so many things people wouldn’t think of.”

— Christina Maffia

“At this point, because there are no natural predators, they’re attacking so many things people wouldn’t think of,” she said.

Maffia said she and her wife, Donna Crinnian, have been able to decrease the amount of bird seed they buy in the winter as nesting birds have disappeared since the deer have eaten the ground covering where the birds would nest.

“They’re impacting the ecosystem,” she said.

In the Village of Port Jefferson, where hunting is prohibited, residents are asked to call 631-774-0066 if they see a deceased deer on the road and 631-744-2507 if they see a wounded deer on their property. Those who spot hunter tree stands on private property can call Kathy Grady, DEC officer, at 631-744-2507 so the location can be checked to see if it qualifies as legal hunting ground.

Brookhaven residents can call the Animal Shelter at 631-451-6950 to report deceased deer on the road. In Smithtown, people can call the Animal Shelter at 631-360-7575 about dead or injured wildlife.

When it comes to roadways, the Department of Motor Vehicles advises drivers to be extra cautious during both dawn and dusk when deer are most active, especially in the autumn months.

Insurance company State Farm recently released its animal collision study from claims data from July 1, 2018, to June 30, 2019, which estimated 1.9 million animal collision claims industrywide nationally, the large majority being with deer. During the same period, it was estimated there were 1.5 million deer claims.

“Remember, animals are unpredictable, especially when faced with glaring headlights, blowing horns and fast-moving vehicles,” said Billy Williams, Setauket State Farm agent. “They often dart into traffic.”

He added that drivers should remember that deer move in herds, so if one is seen on a roadway there may be more following.

the orphaned fawn in Bendickson living room, before finding an adoptive doe. Photos from Janine Bendickson

Sweetbriar Nature Center in Smithtown got an emergency call May 28 from Suffolk County Legislator Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga). He was driving on the Sunken Meadow Parkway when he encountered a man on the side of the road aiding a dying doe that went into labor after being struck by a car.  

Janine Bendickson bottle-feeds the newborn colostrum. Photo from Janine Bendickson

The man, Gordon Edelstein, was pulling a fawn from the birth canal as Trotta got out of his car. Another newborn fawn, which was lying nearby, seemed healthy, he said. The second-born fawn was breathing faintly, so Edelstein, a retired Marine administered mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Unfortunately, only one fawn survived. 

“It was a horrible scene and sad to see,” said Trotta, a former cop who often stops at roadside incidents. “Life is so fragile.”

Janine Bendickson, the director of Wildlife Rehabilitation at Sweetbriar, who quickly arrived at the scene estimates that the fawns were born about one week prematurely. She wrapped the surviving baby deer in a blanket and took the animal home and bottle fed it colostrum, the nutritious milk that mammals produce and mewborns typically get when they first nurse.  

The next day, as fate would have it, Bendickson noticed that a wild deer in the nearby woodlands had also just given birth.  

A wild deer accepts an orphaned fawn as her own. Photo from Janine Bendickson

“Deer typically don’t accept fawns from another doe,” Bendickson said. “But we thought we would give it a try.”

The new mother approached the orphaned fawn and started licking and nurturing it. The doe then accepted the fawn as her own and let it nurse. 

“We were all moved to tears,” Bendickson said. “It’s a tragic story with a happy ending.”

Bendickson, who has worked at Sweetbriar for 20 years, said that the rescue was one of the more remarkable experiences of her career. 

A video of the Bendickson bottle feeding the fawn can be found here.

A family of deer stands, weary of strangers, at the Port Jefferson golf course. Photo by Kyle Barr

Environmental experts fear the impact of deer on local forests

Deer have made a mess out of the Long Island ecology.

It’s a sentiment shared by several federal employees working in multiple environmental departments. At a presentation held in the Port Jefferson Village Center April 11, Thomas Rawinski, who works for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, said deer eat the saplings that would create new trees. They eat the bushes and flowers that would bring insects to the forests. And since they have no natural predators on Long Island, they multiply at an alarming rate.

“If your land is healthy, you can sit back and rest on your laurels,” Rawinski said. “If it’s not, like every damn forest on Long Island, then somebody has work to do, including me.”

Crowded into the Port Jefferson Village Center, residents of both the Village of Port Jefferson and Village of Belle Terre spoke about their own experiences with deer, but it all begs the question: What are the local villages going to do?

“I can tell you the level of deer damage on the east end is the worst I’ve seen in New York.”

— Thomas Desisto

The villages of Belle Terre and Port Jefferson have been working out the details on some sort of organized deer hunt, either a coordinated hunt or deer culling, one that could likely happen at the Port Jefferson golf course.

“It’s either going to be a controlled hunt or it’s going to be a cull,” Port Jeff Mayor Margot Garant said. “I don’t know which way we’re going to go but we’re going to figure it out.”

Talks have been ongoing since January, where both Garant and Belle Terre Mayor Bob Sandak have expressed their intent to split the cost of a deer culling, which would likely be performed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This would involve a specialized team of hunters using thermal imaging and silenced rifles to kill deer from elevated positions at night. The cost could be expensive, with some estimates as high as $1,000 per deer.

Thomas DeSisto, a wildlife specialist with the USDA said the operation is mandated to charge for their services, as they get all their funding through cooperative service agreements. While the cost hasn’t deterred the mayors from finding a solution, DeSisto said there are issues with performing a culling on Long Island due to regulation by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation. 

In 2017, new legislation has restricted hunting to the point that DeSisto said fundamentally restricts the culling process. In Suffolk County, hunting is restricted to bows, or to muzzle-loaded rifles during the January hunting season. In addition, hunters are not allowed to keep loaded firearms within vehicles, use of bait is not allowed within 300 feet of a roadway, and hunters are not allowed to discharge firearms from the road.

“We’ve seen about 50 percent decrease in efficiency in our upstate program, and on Long Island we’ve seen a 75 percent decrease in efficiency,” he said. “I can tell you the level of deer damage on the east end is the worst I’ve seen in New York.”

In January, Belle Terre changed its village code to allow hunting within the premises, saying they had received an opinion by the state attorney general who said that no municipality other than New York State could regulate hunting.

While some village members shared fears of hunting going on so close to their homes, and shared a general distaste for killing animals, Sandak said so far, the change in code, and the facilitating of hunters, has been a success. He estimates since the village allowed hunting approximately 100 deer have been killed.

“Five years ago, if you were in your car and you saw a deer, you took out your phone and took a picture of it, because it was an oddity,” Sandak said. “Now, it’s unbelievable.” 

The New York State DEC allows residents to apply for Deer Damage Permits, which allow property owners to hunt or allow hunters outside of the normal season. The Belle Terre mayor said to his knowledge there are three residents in Belle Terre with DDPs. 

“Five years ago, if you were in your car and you saw a deer, you took out your phone and took a picture of it, because it was an oddity.”

— Bob Sandak

Port Jefferson currently has code on the books that says discharging any kind of firearm, bow or crossbow is strictly prohibited. Garant said village officials are still looking at changing the code so it will allow hunting, conforming to what the state attorney general has said. However, she added the village could not and would not go after residents who break the code and allow hunting on their own property.

Sue Booth Binczik, wildlife biologist with the New York Department of Wildlife Conservation, spoke to those who attended the meeting, echoing Rawinski by saying deer lead to reduced diversity, more invasive plants and fewer canopy and trees.

Deer are perhaps the most efficient devastators of the local ecology. For one, they have prolific breeding patterns. Binczik said does can start to breed at 1 year old and can give birth to two fawns per year in May and June. While deer are naturally prey animals, Long Island shows a distinct lack of natural predators to cull their numbers. An average deer can live to be 20, and while vehicles and hunters may start to pick off the occasional deer, stags can mate with any number of females, ever increasing the population. The only things left to kill the deer are recreational hunters, starvation, but especially moving vehicles.

“Under ideal conditions the deer populations can double every two to three years,” she said. “The reason they have this high reproductive rate is because they’re a prey species.” 

State DEC regulations require that hunters only use a bow and arrow and only during the hunting season, barring a DDP permit. Hunters must also shoot 150 feet away from any structures with a bow, and of course they are not allowed to trespass onto other residents’ property without permission.

Binczik said there are means to get a community involved by completing a “controlled hunt,” which would require each individual homeowner to give permission for the village to hunt on their property. Those participating community members would come together to decide on a set of rules for any hunters participating, including the qualifications of the hunters and the times the hunters would be allowed out.

“There have been communities in upstate New York that have been running for controlled hunts for decades, and they have been very happy with it,” she said.

Despite all these efforts, Rawinski remains skeptical. He said it comes from years of seeing the damage that deer have caused to the local wildlife. People, he said, have to wake up to it. While by the roadside it may seem the forests are blooming with green, but it’s a symptom of what he called the “great green lie,” that while it may seem the forests are lush, on the ground, there’s not much left. 

“It’s hard to come by solutions, especially in this suburban situation,” he said. “Humans have a can-do attitude, but I have to tell you, we’re up against our match. I don’t hate deer. I hate what people have let them do to the ecosystem.”

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A family of deer stands, weary of strangers, at the Port Jefferson golf course. Photo by Kyle Barr

The Village of Belle Terre has moved to allow hunting in the village limits, saying the village code that restricted it was illegal in the first place.

Chapter 95 of the Belle Terre village code, specifying hunting and firearms, forbade any person for hunting, trapping or discharging firearms within village limits. In a meeting Jan. 15, the village board voted unanimously to remove it from the code and now it defaults to New York State law and Department of Environmental Conservation regulations regarding to hunting.

Belle Terre Mayor Bob Sandak said nine months ago the village board announced to the community it had received an opinion letter from the attorney general of the state of New York saying all hunting regulations are held by the state, and there is no room for local laws in contradiction to state laws.

“We’re just doing away with something that can’t be in the village code,” the Belle Terre mayor said. “It’s controlled by state legislature through the DEC. You’re not allowed to have codes that do not conform to state law.”

During the public discussion at the Jan. 15 meeting, many residents spoke out against taking away the code. Some said they felt the decision to remove the part of the village code was announcing to the public Belle Terre was open to hunting, though DEC regulations state hunters must be 150 feet from any structure, and they cannot trespass onto people’s property without permission. 

Natalie Bratt, along with other Belle Terre residents, share their opinions of deer hunters in Belle Terre village. Photo by Kyle Barr

Village resident Robin Marcel said she was concerned rogue hunters or poachers would be shooting arrows in the residential vicinity.

“How many arrows must I find in my backyard?” Marcel said. “There are certainly some good hunters out there, but not everyone is reputable.”

A number of residents reported seeing hunters carrying bows and arrows walking down residential streets. Others said they heard what might have been gunshots going off in the night. Some said they were afraid that deer injured by bows and arrows might leap fences and end up dying in people’s backyards.

DEC regulations specify hunting can only be done during the day, and the use of firearms like rifles or shotguns for deer hunting is prohibited on Long Island.

Sandak said he has only heard a single complaint about a deer dying in a resident’s backyard within the village, but that issue was cleared up quickly. He added the best way to deal with these illicit hunters was to contact either Suffolk County police or the DEC. 

Village Attorney Eileen Powers repeatedly stressed village constables had no authority to arrest people for hunting, especially if the persons were invited onto the property by
the homeowner.

Kelvin Bryant, a member of East Quogue-based hunting advocacy group Hunters for Deer, attended the meeting and said while there were bad actors out there, his group’s members were all professionals who only kill deer from elevated positions, called tree stands, and would only shoot at a deer if it was 15 to 20 yards away max.

“Our guys are trained to take ethical shots,” he said.

Culling in Port Jeff and Belle Terre

In neighboring Port Jefferson village, discharging any kind of firearm, bow or crossbow is strictly prohibited by village code, but that may soon have to change if plans go through to perform a deer culling for both Belle Terre and Port Jeff. Sandak said the hunting would most likely happen at the Port Jefferson Country Club golf course.

Port Jefferson Mayor Margot Garant said she was currently working up an agreement with Belle Terre village over setting up a professional culling of the deer population in the area, though they are still working out the final details between the towns. Garant added there would be public meetings in the future on the subject of a professional deer culling, and the cost would be split between Port Jeff and Belle Terre 50/50.

“They’ll do it properly, and do it for a three-year period,” the Port Jeff mayor said. “Nobody will hear gunshots or see deer running around with arrows stuck in their backs.”

‘Nobody will hear gunshots or see deer running around with arrows stuck in their backs.’

— Margot Garant

The culling would be done through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which has a special permit from the DEC to get around a number of normal regulations. The USDA officers would use silenced rifles, bait, and will do the culling only at night. 

Sandak said Brookhaven National Laboratory recently completed a culling along its own property to hamper the tick population. 

“They fired 331 bullets and killed 330 deer — I don’t know where the last bullet went,” Sandak said. “Their tick population was reduced by 50 percent.”

Belle Terre Trustee Jacquelyn Gernaey said she was initially against the idea of a culling due to the cost, which she said could be as high as $1,000 a deer.

Sandak said in the near-mile radius of the village bounds there could be as many as 300 deer. While he does not expect to bring that number down to the appropriate number of deer for the area, only around 20, he does expect a culling could bring it down to approximately 50. Though he added it may be needed every two years to keep the total population down.

Hunting incidents in the two villages

Some hunters in the Belle Terre and Port Jefferson area are taking the deer population problem into their own hands, sometimes using illegal means.

Village Trustee Stan Loucks said he heard gunshots outside his home along Soundview Drive the morning of Jan. 7.

They were only small, short shots of small caliber handgun, which went off around 7:30 in the morning, Loucks said the day after the event. When light broke, he went outside to investigate, and near his backyard, which borders on the territory of the Village of Belle Terre, he found a small pool of deer entrails lying on the ground. The carcass was gone.

“It was a popgun, it was close, and they were quick,” Loucks said. “It was a fresh kill.”

Hunting for deer is limited to bows and arrows on Long Island, according to the DEC.

Loucks called the DEC, and he said they arrived within the hour. The DEC officer came back with a hunting dog, but he could not pick up a scent of the hunters. 

A family of deer stands, weary of strangers, at the Port Jefferson golf course. Photo by Kyle Barr

Garant said other residents within the village have complained of hearing firearms near their homes in the recent past.

While the investigation is still ongoing, Loucks has his own theory of what happened. He said he believes the hunters injured the deer with a bow and arrow and then, after tracking it to near his backyard, finally killed it with a handgun.

Garant said she spoke to the DEC officer assigned to the case who informed her there might be poachers in the area, and she has heard details in the past of hunters who had decapitated deer and left them on the golf course. At the Jan. 7 Port Jeff village board meeting, Garant and village trustees discussed putting up signs near the golf course expressing the penalties for hunting within the village limits. 

Sandak was shocked to hear about Loucks encounter with hunters near his property and said it was completely illegal to use a firearm to hunt deer with a gun instead of the mandated bow and arrow.

Fears of hunters in the Port Jefferson area are not unfounded, especially that of animals injured by arrows stampeding onto resident’s property. 

Spokesperson for the New York DEC Bill Fonda said there have been two other complaints of hunting activities in Port Jeff village this hunting season. One was at a home on Prospect Street filed, Nov. 28, 2018, related to a deer being found on a person’s property with two arrows lodged in it. On Dec. 5, 2018, another homeowner filed a complaint that related they saw a hunter with a bow stalking in the vicinity of Oakwood Road. The DEC has not had any waterfowl hunting complaints in Port Jeff village this season.

Individuals with general questions relating to hunting should contact DEC’s Wildlife Office at 631-444-0310. Those with concerns relating to hunting safety should contact DEC’s Environmental Conservation officers at 631-444-0250.

Deer rutting season means more of the animals running out on local roads. Photo by Rohma Abbas

Love is in the air, which can cause troubles on the roads.

It’s deer rutting season — the time of year they breed — which means the animals are prone to run out on local roadways, causing potential dangers for drivers. While it’s advisable to drive carefully and be vigilant at any time of day, especially near wooded areas, peak time for rutting occurs between dusk and dawn requiring extra caution during those hours, according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

Lori Ketcham, a rehabilitator with Middle Island-based Save the Animals Rescue Foundation, said the rutting season begins approximately in the middle of October and lasts until the end of November, sometimes longer. She said her main advice during the season is for motorists to drive carefully because the deer don’t think.

“The boys only have one thing on their mind,” Ketcham said. “They’re following the scent so they’re just running. They smell a girl down the street. They run, and they don’t care if there are roads in the way.”

She said if two bucks are fighting, something that would most likely happen in wooded areas and not near the road, to steer clear of them. She said it’s important when seeing a deer run across the street to remember there is a chance another one will follow, whether it’s a buck in heat or a fawn following its mother.

“They are a herd animal,” she said. “If one runs across the road, assume there are more coming.”

Ketcham said it’s important for drivers to keep their eyes not only on the road but the sides of the streets. She said sometimes deer are not hit by a car but run into the side of it, breaking their jaws or necks.

The rehabilitator said it’s important for drivers who hit a deer to check to see if they are dead or not, and not to approach or move an injured deer. Whenever a motorist hits an animal, even smaller ones like squirrels and raccoons, Ketcham advises people to call the police department, adding a person won’t get in trouble for hitting an animal with a car.

“Have someone come out and not have the animal out there suffering,” she said.

Drivers are also cautioned to slow down when approaching deer near a roadside, according to the DEC. While they may look inactive, they can quickly bolt in front of a car.

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They are a surprise to behold, the wildlife in the suburbs. When I was growing up in New York City, the extent of the animal population consisted of pigeons and squirrels in the park. So I marvel at Long Island’s Canadian geese, rabbits, squirrels, ducks, swans, seagulls, ospreys, raccoons and deer going about their business alongside us as we humans go about ours.

Sometimes they are beautiful to watch.

On one road I frequently use, the geese will cross to the other side, holding up traffic as they do. Drivers slow to a stop and watch as the geese unhurriedly walk single file before them. Interestingly one of the geese stands in the middle of the road in front of the line of march, a sentinel protecting the rest. Only after the last one crosses does the lookout then join on the end. These geese are definitely traffic savvy, patiently waiting on the edge of the grass and avoiding the cars as they speed by, awaiting an opening before they start to cross.

My son likes to watch the ducks swimming along, one behind the other, and wonders aloud if there is a pecking order to the line. We also marvel at the birds in strict formation when they begin to migrate.

We have a wacky rabbit that lives on our property and races the car down the driveway as we arrive home. One of these days, we are going to have rabbit stew if it isn’t careful. There are gorgeous butterflies occasionally, rising together like an umbrella of color when startled, and the buzzing bees encourage the likelihood of pollination.

The other day, as I was driving along a waterside road, two deer, one in front of the other, rushed out of the wetland grass in front of my car, crossed the road, gracefully jumped the post-and-rail fence on the opposite side and raced up the hill until they were hidden in some trees. It was a heart-stopping moment because they had come close. They were also so lyrical in their movements, their russet bodies glistening in the sunlight, that they took my breath away.

We have a woodpile that is visible from the windows on one side of the house, and early each day, it seems, there is a squirrel that runs back and forth, bushy tail held high, across the chopped logs. We have named him Jack and conjectured that he is doing his morning exercises. Later, he can be seen leaping from limb to limb among the lush trees, the ultimate gymnast gathering nuts, I suppose, for his meals.

Early in our lives here, we used to see an occasional red fox and sometimes plump pheasants, but I haven’t seen those in a long while. I do know when there is a skunk nearby, and should we just once leave the garbage cans unfastened, we are aware we would be visited by raccoons.

The variety of songbirds is lovely. In addition to the mockingbird, the cardinal and the blue jay, those little brown birds are loud and numerous. A pair of ospreys apparently have made a huge nest nearby because we can see them soaring high above. Ditto for the seagulls, crying out to each other as they glide on an air current looking for dinner.

It surprises me that the dogs in the neighborhood coexist so peacefully with the rest of the animal kingdom here. Yes, they will occasionally chase a rabbit, almost as a duty, but not for long. And they will bark at a chipmunk as it scurries along but not in any sort of vicious way. I suppose that means they are well fed by their owners. The cats, however, are a different story. We’ve got one on the block that’s a real hunter, a lion in miniature.

The cliché is that the suburbs are sterile places, but they certainly are more interesting for their variety of natural life than the pigeons I used to be thrilled by as they landed on the fire escapes and city windowsills. To take just a few moments from an otherwise busy day, draw a deep breath, and enjoy the beauty of living beings around us this summer is a pleasure we should allow ourselves.

Suffolk County Executive presents Setauket pet with proclamation

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone presents Storm, an English golden retriever, with a proclamation for rescuing a drowning deer from Port Jeff Harbor. Photo by Kevin Redding

A local English golden retriever has earned a lifetime of “Good boy!” declarations and belly rubs, but Suffolk County recently threw him another bone to add to the accolades.

Suffolk County’s newest hero Storm, the brave, 6-year-old dog, who became a national celebrity last week after a video of him pulling a drowning fawn from Port Jefferson Harbor Sunday, July 16, spread like wildfire online, rolled around in the grass outside the Save the Animal Rescue Foundation in Middle Island July 19 as he and local animal rescue members were honored for their efforts to save the baby deer.

County Executive Steve Bellone (D) presented proclamations to East Setauket resident and injury attorney Mark Freeley, Storm’s owner who captured the heroics on his cellphone, Strong Island Animal Rescue League co-founder Frankie Floridia, who aided in the rescue, and Save the Animal Rescue Foundation Director Lori Ketcham, who is rehabilitating the 3-month-old male fawn now referred to as Water. He is currently in stable condition.

Storm, an English golden retriever from East Setauket, became famous for saving a drowning deer from Port Jeff Harbor last week. Photo by Kevin Redding

Despite an attempt to present an official proclamation to the man’s best friend of the hour, Storm seemed much more interested in a large bone provided by the county executive’s staff.

“We’re here to talk about some of the heroes we have here, both canine and human, for what they’ve done to really remind us of the importance of compassion and giving to others and helping others,” Bellone said, acknowledging the selfless initiatives of the animal rescue groups.

Looking down at Storm, he said, “And this dog here is no ordinary golden retriever. He really did something important and special for us. The inspiration that Storm has given to all of us should inspire us to support the work of people like this that is happening each and every day. If that happens, then what Storm did will not only help save one fawn but will help save countless other animals here and others that will be here in the future.”

It was just another normal Sunday morning walk out to Pirate’s Cove for Freeley, 53, and his dogs, Storm and Sarah, a rescued Border collie, when he said the golden retriever suddenly got ahead of him on the empty beach.

The next thing Freeley knew, Storm was paddling out into the water about 100 feet offshore toward “a brown head bobbing” he quickly realized was a drowning fawn. As captured in the video seen around the world, Storm held the deer in his mouth and carried it towards the beach “like a lifeguard would with their arm,” Freeley said.

After the fawn got on the sand, it ran around wildly before collapsing. Storm gently nudged the deer’s face and belly and pawed his leg.

“He won’t even play fetch with a tennis ball,” Freeley said, laughing. “I just feel like he thought he had to do something for this deer. Storm’s a very well-adjusted and socialized dog. He doesn’t have a mean bone in his body and he gets along with all animals. People on Facebook were saying he was going to kill the deer, but if you meet this dog, you know that was not going to happen. He’s not prey-driven.”

Freeley quickly posted the video to his Facebook and then called the nonprofit Strong Island Animal Rescue League to inform its members of the fawn.

Floridia, the group’s leader, said when he and his colleague Erica Kutzing tried to approach the deer with leashes and nets, “it totally went AWOL” and ran back into the water and paddled more than 200 feet out. Floridia said it was a do-or-die situation and it didn’t take long before he was swimming out to save the deer.

“He went into the water and followed the example that Storm set earlier and brought that fawn back in and brought it to safety,” Bellone said of Floridia, who he called the animal rescue cowboy.

Storm, an English golden retriever from East Setauket, became famous for saving a drowning deer from Port Jeff Harbor last week. Photo by Kevin Redding

The deer was then transported to the Middle Island animal rescue center.

“The deer was saved and that’s really the best part of the whole thing,” Floridia said. “It’s wonderful that this is bringing awareness to what really happens behind the scenes. Of course I want to thank Storm for helping us ride this wave to get awareness for what we do every day.”

Since the video was posted, the courageous canine’s heroics has accumulated nearly 5.5 million views on Facebook, has been the top story on several talk shows, including ones overseas.

“We’ve been going from one interview to the next and Storm’s been a champ at everything,” Freeley said. “Yesterday, a lady out of the blue called me to tell me just how much of an impact the video had on her, and I could hear her crying a little bit. It’s just amazing and I think people just want to see a simple, basic act of kindness by a dog because news is so hostile today.”

Ketcham said she appreciates the attention her center has been getting from this, which she admitted she isn’t used to.

“It’s been a crazy couple of days since the fawn came here,” Ketcham said. “We have several hundred animals here in our care all being taken care of by a dedicated bunch of volunteers. We hope to get the fawn outside with the rest that are there in a couple days and then back out into the wild in September.”

Freeley, who fosters rescue dogs, provides pro bono legal work for a local animal rescue group, and runs adoption events every Saturday with his daughter, reiterated the biggest takeaway from this.

“It’s really important to support people like Frankie and [these foundations] because they’re the front lines of animal rescue and everybody wants animal rescue, but without your support, there can’t be animal rescue,” he said. “So if Storm has one thing to ask you today it’s to donate to Strong Island and Save the Animal Rescue Foundation to help them continue to save the lives of animals in Suffolk County and on Long Island.”

A brave dog took Port Jefferson Harbor by storm to rescue a flailing fawn July 16, and as a result has become a national celebrity. A video was posted on Facebook Sunday morning of Storm, a dog owned by Setauket resident Mark Freeley, bounding into Port Jeff harbor to rescue a drowning baby deer as Freeley watched from the shore and urged his dog to bring the deer in. By Wednesday, several million shares and views later, the video had gone viral and Storm was set to be honored by Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D). Freeley said it best at the conclusion of the one-minute video: “Good boy, Storm!” Check back next week for a full story on the local hero.

Photo by Wendy Mercier

The aim of allowing deer hunting to control the population in Asharoken and Eaton’s Neck has not exactly hit the target for many Huntington residents.

Members of the public expressed their continuing concerns over the policy enacted last year, which allowed bow hunting of deer in Eaton’s Neck during hunting season, during the March 21 town board meeting, and town officials assured them they understand many are not satisfied with the current law.

“I know there has to be a better solution because I think the solution that’s in place now is causing a hardship for the taxpayers and the people that live here,” Cindy Gabel, an Eaton’s Neck resident, said.

Gabel said she and friends have witnessed hunters assembling tree stands at night, a method to hunt deer, and she fears hunters are out when there is almost no visibility.

“It’s really dark out there at night and they’re hunting out there at night — I am sure of it,” she said. “I think one of the troubles you have is there really isn’t anyone besides the residents — I am trying to do it myself — going out at night and seeing if illegal hunting is happening. There’s not someone patrolling the streets and the police that are patrolling can’t really do anything about it anyway. There’s an awful big burden on us, the residents, about the deer hunting and it’s not really solving the problem.”

Gabel said whenever she calls the police about possible illegal hunting they instruct her to call the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, and those officers are allowed to deal with any illegal hunters. But Gabel said it usually takes the DEC officers more than a half hour to get to the scene, leaving the chance of catching hunters slim.

Gabel was not alone in her fear night hunting could lead to dangerous situations.

“My fear too is that after 60 years on Locust Lane a stray arrow may mistake me or you for its quiver, so I ask you to deliver us from men in tree stands, from those deer slayers in tree stands,” Charlotte Koons, an Eaton’s Neck resident, said at the meeting.

Huntington Town Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) assured the residents the town is listening.

“We’re looking at many, many different things because we are all concerned with the hunting,” Petrone said at the meeting. “We are looking at this very seriously because we know there’s a problem and we know that there are other problems as a result of this happening. So we share your concern, and the hunting situation that exists does not seem to solve the problem.”

The main problem the bow hunting for deer was intended to solve was the overpopulation in areas like Asharoken and Eaton’s Neck. Residents attended multiple town hall meetings last year citing their fear of deer causing car accidents and spreading Lyme disease as tick carriers.

But some community members feel this solution was not the right way to go.

“This is going to be the worst tick season we’ve had … the deer yes they carry ticks — so do we and so do white mice,” Gabel said. “We could kill all the deer in Eatons Neck, we’re still going to have the problem of the ticks and the Lyme disease so what do we do then? If someone gets killed in the process what have we all accomplished here?”

Councilwoman Tracey Edwards (D) said she and Asharoken officials intend to work together to try and find a new solution.

“Mayor [Greg] Letica is committed to working with us and the town attorney to see where we could have some common ground and also bring a proposal for you [Petrone] to review and consider for an amendment that would care for some of the issues and safety concerns,” she said.

At a March village board meeting Letica confirmed he spoke with Edwards about a possible change to the law.

“I had a phone conversation with Huntington Councilwoman Tracey Edwards about the status of the draft law to amend the existing town deer ordinance,” he said at the meeting, “Councilwoman Edwards informed me that once a draft is complete she will share it with the village.”

Deer rutting season means more of the animals running out on local roads. Photo by Rohma Abbas

With the first deer-hunting season in Eaton’s Neck coming to a close, Huntington residents and town board officials are evaluating if the new bow hunting rules are a success.

Huntington Town spokesperson A.J. Carter said in a phone interview that the board plans to gather different viewpoints and “assess what to do going forward,” to see if the town achieved its stated goal of cutting down the deer population.

The board voted to allow bow hunting of deer in early September, amending the town code to allow it in Eaton’s Neck under the direction of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation during the state’s deer hunting season, between Oct. 1 to Jan. 31.

Joe DeRosa, an Eaton’s Neck resident and president of the civic group Eaton’s Neck Corporation, said he thinks this season has gone well.

A petition on Change.org calls for an end to deer hunting in Eaton's Neck. Screen capture
A petition on Change.org calls for an end to deer hunting in Eaton’s Neck. Screen capture

According to DeRosa, the community has hunted and removed more than 60 deer — and residents have noticed a difference.

“During the day, you don’t see too many deer at all,” DeRosa said in a phone interview. “The number of sightings has drastically declined since this time last year.”

DeRosa said his expectations for the town measure have been met.

Some residents do not share that sentiment.

A petition on activism website Change.org, created in November, now has more than 500 supporters who want the Huntington Town Board to stop allowing hunting in residential areas. The petition expressed safety concerns from neighbors who have hunters on adjacent lots acting close to their own properties.

“These deer slayers now roam freely in the Town of Huntington with no enforced restrictions, regulations or policing of any kind,” the petition states. “They come and go, killing and wounding at will.”

When the law passed in September, Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) said measures would be taken so “it’s not just ‘Joe the hunter’ coming in.”

According to the resolution, anyone with a DEC permit can hunt on their own Eaton’s Neck property or on such a property where they have the owner’s consent.

DeRosa said residents were advised to call the Suffolk County Police Department with any complaints or concerns they had after the law was enacted, but neither a police spokesperson nor a DEC spokesperson could immediately confirm whether their departments received any complaints.

Many of the people who signed the petition are not actually from the Huntington area, with some living as far as Delaware and Pennsylvania.

DeRosa said the petition does not reflect the overall consensus of the community.

The Eaton’s Neck Corporation conducted a resident survey earlier this year, before the town took action, and more than 85 percent wanted something done about the perceived overpopulation of deer in their area, according to DeRosa.

“The community asked for help and they got what they wanted,” he said. “This is a community effort.”

The issue was a hot debate in the summer and fall, with many people concerned about the traffic danger deer posed as well as the threat of spreading Lyme disease.

In addition to the bow hunting law, the town board created a deer management program to research alternative methods of lowering the deer population, such as contraceptives or herding programs. Carter said that program is still in the early stages of development.