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                by Marija Beqaj, Pat Hackett

Hello everyone,

An article appeared in Newsday on February 3rd reporting the outcome of a lawsuit brought by Friends of Animals against the Fire Island National Seashore (FINS).  (Bartley Horton, thank you for being alert and bringing this article to our attention.)

That lawsuit is separate from the one filed jointly by two organizations --- the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), a prestigious international organization, and Wildlife Preserves, Inc. (WP) which has a remarkable historical connection to Fire Island:  fifty years ago WP donated globally unique parcels of land that would become a protected wildlife sanctuary known as the Sunken Forest—our beloved Sunken Forest where the Fire Island National Seashore now illegally plans to kill deer.

 We were confident that the deer were safe for the time being, because of an agreement between FINS and the AWI/WP.   However, FINS has broken that agreement.  With funding in place—reportedly about $100K---deer have already been killed on the William Floyd Estate.  More deer are slated to be killed before the end of March on federal land ‘somewhere’ on Fire Island.  And this will happen every year—every year Fire Island will be open to hunting and culling and sharpshooting.

Whenever our barrier island’s deer have been threatened, organizations such as those mentioned above and Long Island Orchestrating for Nature --- have stepped forward to help.  The founder of Fund for Animals, the brilliant and charismatic Cleveland Amory accomplished the seemingly impossible during the infamous winter of the 1988/89 'Study/Hunt'. While friends and neighbors were protesting and being arrested on Burma Road, Cleveland Amory traveled to Washington DC, met with the Director of the National Park Service (NPS) and persuaded him to stop the pitiful hunting of Fire Island’s semi-tame deer. 

At that time, we realized that our wildlife bureaucracies are so solidly entrenched in lethal management that it was up to us, ordinary citizens, to find a humane way to prevent the deer from reproducing.  By happenstance, we contacted the premier immunocontraception researchers in the country, right at the time when they were looking for a test site. 

We flew the researchers into New York, treated them to a whirlwind tour of Fire Island, and one year later, with all stringent conditions met and, most importantly, commitments from the ‘monitors’ in the communities, female deer were remotely darted with the PZP contraceptive vaccine (at a mere $24 per doe) without trapping, netting, immobilizing or ear-tagging them. 

Recently, some well-intentioned suburban communities, desperate to find non-lethal means to control their deer populations were persuaded to undertake in-the-field surgical sterilizations that are prohibitively expensive, labor intensive, painful for the animals and completely impractical for widespread use.  (On Staten Island NY, $1737 per buck was spent on in-the-field vasectomies.)

So, of course, because surgical sterilization is not a threat to hunting, wildlife agencies allow it.  On the other hand, PZP vaccine has proven to have great potential for widespread use and hence the NPS has put obstacles, in the form of five “artfully and arbitrarily qualified” criteria, in the way of its use.

As the inevitable negative reports on surgical sterilization surface in the media, we hope that the more practical—and humane—PZP vaccine "baby" will not be thrown out with the bathwater.  We hope that Judge Sandra J. Feuerstein who is well-liked and said to be fair minded, will scrutinize FINS’ deer management plan and the use of PZP vaccine (or ZONASTAT-D as it was named upon registration by the EPA) and make a groundbreaking decision that could impact suburban wildlife management and public health in a most profound and extremely positive way.

Marija Beqaj, Pat Hackett

Trustees, Fire Island Wildlife Foundation, inc.