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Deer

Photo by Michael Perlotto

A STATUESQUE SIGHT

Michael Perlotto of Stony Brook snapped this incredible photo in mid-March. He writes, ‘I was walking at dusk on Trustees Road [at West Meadow Beach]. I rounded the corner and came upon this amazing scene.  I was the only one within eyesight … you could hear a pin drop as the deer stood off on the horizon.  I quickly took this picture with my iPhone as the deer stood perfectly still like statues!’

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Photo by Tom Caruso

AUTUMN FAWN

Tom Caruso snapped this photo of a young whitetail deer in a meadow at Caleb Smith State Park Preserve in his hometown of Smithtown on Dec. 6. He writes, ‘I followed a small herd of deer for a while and was amazed by how comfortable they were with my presence. I snapped this picture of the smallest deer as it took a break from grazing to check me out. It was a great experience getting so close to them.’

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Drivers need to proceed with caution when they spot deer on the side of roadway. File photo by Phil Schiavone

Deer grazing near roadways may look innocent but they can pose a possible hazard — even a deadly one — for drivers.

As fall arrives, the animals’ presence becomes an even greater danger. A higher percentage of deer are now more likely to dart out into the road as they are in the midst of their rutting season, which runs from October through December. Driving during dusk and dawn exacerbates the problem with reduced visibility.

According to a press release from AAA Northeast, there were 36,445 animal crashes in New York State in 2019, and the number of crashes has increased over the past five years. Suffolk County was found to have the third highest amount of animal crashes with 1,415. In 2019, Brookhaven had 423 animal crashes while Smithtown had 120.

The data was taken from the Institute for Traffic Safety Management and Research, an affiliate with the University at Albany’s Rockefeller College of Public Affairs, which does not cite which animals were involved in the crash. However AAA Northeast said in its press release that “data from New York and other states previous years found deer were involved in 88 to 98 percent of crashes.”

“Striking a deer can be extremely dangerous, with the animal possibly going through the windshield, seriously injuring or killing the driver and passengers,” said Robert Sinclair Jr., spokesman for AAA Northeast.

AAA Northeast recommends drivers brake gently and avoid swerving when encountering any animals.

“Going to the right could send the vehicle into a ditch, tree or light pole,” the AAA Northeast press release said. “Swerving to the left could result in a lethal head-on crash. Even hitting the brakes hard could send the front end of the vehicle into a nosedive, promoting the animal rolling up the hood and through the windshield.”

Other tips from AAA and insurance companies include:

● Be extra cautious when you see a deer-crossing sign along a roadway. The sign means that there have been deer-vehicle collisions near the sign location.

● Decrease speed when you approach deer near roadsides as they can bolt out or change direction quickly. If you see a deer, look for others as they are herd animals and usually travel in groups. Especially during rutting season when a buck may be chasing a doe.

● Move your vehicle to a safe place if you hit an animal. If possible, pull over to the side of the road and turn on your hazard lights. If you must leave your vehicle, stay off the road and out of the way of any oncoming vehicles.

● Call the police. Alert authorities if the animal is blocking traffic and creating a threat for other drivers. If the collision results in injury, death or more than $1,000 in property damage, you must fill out an official crash report and send it to the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles.

● Look for leaking fluid, loose parts, tire damage, broken lights, a hood that won’t latch and other safety hazards. If your vehicle seems unsafe in any way, call for a tow truck.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation recommends not getting out of your car and approaching an injured animal as they can strike out with their legs or hooves. In Brookhaven, residents can call the Animal Shelter at 631-451-6950 to report deceased deer on the road or curbside. Town employees cannot remove animals found on front lawns, backyards or on driveways.

Joe Glenn, Avalon Park & Preserve, Photo of the Week, deer

PICTURE PERFECT

Joe Glenn was lucky enough to spot this beautiful deer while visiting Avalon Park & Preserve in his hometown of Stony Brook. While the park remains open to visitors, the entrance at the Stony Brook Grist Mill is now temporarily closed for renovations.

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Brookhaven resident and avid hunter John German speaks to the Town and DEC about the need for more places to hunt. Photo by Kyle Barr

With villages like Belle Terre and Port Jefferson taking steps in handling the issue of deer in their municipalities, Town of Brookhaven representatives say there’s things they can do at the Town level to stop the scourge of deer and their impact on the local environment.

At a forum hosted by Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) and representatives of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, residents were split on how to handle the overwhelming deer population, but no one questioned whether their impact has been felt far and wide, whether it’s from them simply eating people’s gardens or the mass depletion of saplings and bushes in Long Island forests.

Leslie Lupo, left, a biologist for the state DEC, and DEC spokesperson Aphrodite Montalvo speaks on Deer. Photo by Kyle Barr

“We have not played an active role in respect to deer management,” Cartright said. “It is an issue within our Town, and we can’t rely solely on our villages. So, it’s a question of how can we work with the villages, or how we can do something on our own.”

Leslie Lupo, a big game wildlife biologist for the DEC, said that, despite some misconceptions, deer do very well living in a suburban landscape such as Long Island, especially since they have no natural predators. They are polygamous and have short gestation periods, which means, unchecked, their population continues to grow.

“No management means more and more deer,” Lupo said.

Despite residents’ constant complaints of deer eating plants and vegetables at people’s homes and gardens, deer have had an even more major impact on Long Island’s forests and biodiversity, the biologist said. Many of the saplings in forests have been eaten by deer, and their favoring of ground plants has meant the loss of habitat for some songbird species. 

“They are a huge changer of their own habitat,” she added. “Deer will just eat everything here and move on to the next property.”

Cartright said the forum was an example of one of the first steps the DEC provides in its deer management guide, originally published in 2012, in starting to make change. Over the last several years, the deer issue has ballooned into near-crisis proportions. While state officials said they cannot give estimates of the number of deer on Long Island, due to migration and other mitigating factors, the total number of deer shot and tagged by hunters in Suffolk County is around 3,200-3,400 in the last five years.

Multiple North Shore villages have gotten ahead of towns in dealing directly with the deer issue. Belle Terre, for example, has been allowing residents to bring in hunters onto their properties as long as they conform to state laws regarding setbacks from other properties. Belle Terre Mayor Bob Sandak said this has already made a significant impact in the village’s deer population.

What More Can Be Done?

With the need to reduce deer population clear, the two major schools of thoughts are to either encourage recreational hunting or professional culls or by surgical or chemical sterilization. Lupo favored hunting, citing mixed-at-best results from sterilization initiatives.

Lupo called recreational hunting the most utilized tool for the DEC and said it is “safe and effective” with a large bowhunting culture on Long Island. Even with nonlethal alternatives, she suggested it would be more effective combined with lethal removal.

Both Lupo and several hunters who came to the Jan. 30 meeting said, despite areas which have been opened up with cooperative agreements with the DEC, there are many parts of the Island where they are restricted from hunting. 

Not all municipal lands allow access. While the setback for bowhunters between properties was changed from 500 feet in 2012 to 150 feet a few years later, hunters said there are only a few public properties on which they can actually hunt. The archery season, which runs from Oct. 1 through Jan. 31, is much longer than the shotgun season, which only runs from Jan. 4 to Jan. 31 and requires a Town permit or landowner consent form. The DEC’s tagging system essentially allows for “an unlimited harvest of deer,” Lupo said. “The harvest has been increasing and increasing to go along with our increased population.”

Though DEC officials said some harvest years are better than others, and some are worse than others since various conditions can impact harvest rates, such as weather.

John German, of the Brookhaven hamlet and an avid hunter, said that, despite there being a large hunting crowd, the number of deer does not seem to have stymied. He and other hunters complained about Town-owned lands in which they are unable to hunt. 

“There’s more deer now than there ever was,” German said.

Some called for the Town when it buys land for municipal purposes to allow hunters on that property, but Cartright said the majority of space the Town acquires is small and not conducive to hunting.

Lupo said that residents or the Town could start organizing hunts and allow residents to interact with them to allay fears, but other residents strongly supported sterilization initiatives, including Elaine Maas, a board member of the Four Harbors Audubon Society, who pointed to data from Hastings-on-Hudson and its chemical contraceptive program, which from 2014 to 2018 sterilized about 60 deer, which the city described as about 75 percent of the population. 

Maas also said she has had issues with hunters on a neighboring property for years and described being “confined” in her own home during hunting season.

Surgical sterilization can cost as much as $1,000 per deer, while chemical sterilization can cost anywhere from $500 to $3,000. At minimum, 75-90 percent of females would need to be treated to see some effect. Lupo also said another issue is that, in an uncontrolled setting, deer often migrate to and away from some areas, meaning that some chemical sterilization techniques that require multiple treatments become that much harder.

“Maybe it will prove to be more beneficial in the future,” she said.

Cartright said the next step is to get the rest of the Town council on board. While the board could form a committee in the future, there’s a few “low hanging fruit,” including doing a survey and speaking with villages and her fellow board members. She also mentioned changing Town code regarding fencing to make more residents able to buy higher barriers on property.

This post has been amended Feb. 13 to correct Lupo’s comment on managing deer, also to change “incubation period” to “gestation period” and add context to another of Lupo’s quotes.

Photo by Tom Caruso

DIVING IN

Tom Caruso of Smithtown was in the right place at the right time when he snapped this photo on Nov. 23.  He writes, ‘I was photographing the river at the Nissequogue River State Park when I heard a commotion behind me.  I turned to see this deer jumping into the river to escape someone’s dog who had chased it out of the woods.  I quickly snapped a few shots and was lucky to get this one just as the deer hit the water.  He swam across the river and exited on Short Beach.’ 

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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 Bendicksen 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 Bendicksen, 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, Bendicksen 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 Bendicksen

“Deer typically don’t accept fawns from another doe,” Bendicksen 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,” Bendicksen said. “It’s a tragic story with a happy ending.”

Bendicksen, 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 Bendicksen bottle feeding the fawn can be found here.