NPS: Sharpshooters culling deer herd on Fire Island

The National Park Service has a controversial management plan to reduce the number of deer at Fire Island National Seashore.

Superintendent Alex Romero estimates there were 400 to 500 deer within the boundaries of the park over the past half a century. He said that number is detrimental to the ecosystem.

"What we need for a healthier forest or ecosystem is 20 to 25 deer per square mile," he said. "They are eating new saplings or seedlings that would create forest regeneration."

So once again, starting on Monday, between 30 and 60 deer will be shot and killed at the William Floyd Estate and on Fire Island to cull the population.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture also plans to test some of the deer for COVID-19 antibodies to learn more about the spread between people and animals.

Romero insists sharpshooters take every precaution to do their work in a harmless way.

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"We also work with a nonprofit that hires sharpshooters who are skilled in minimizing impacts to the animal and also neighboring communities," he said. 

But regardless of how it's done or what we learn about COVID-19, animal advocates argue it's unethical. John Di Leonardo of Long Island Orchestrating for Nature believes there are far more humane ways to reduce herds.

"It's up to us to coexist with animals," he said. "Immunocontraception, which is birth control, deer-resistant plants, natural substances on vegetable matter so they don't want to eat them."

Once the program wraps up at the end of February, officials will reassess the deer population to determine if they need to continue reducing the herd. Since they started four years ago, they've donated approximately 10,000 pounds of venison to food banks.

Fire Island National Seashore is a protected area of Fire Island, which is a barrier island within Suffolk County.