Op-ed letter to the East Hampton Star from a concerned local businessman
Open Letter to the Town of East Hampton
If anyone has reason to want to address wildlife issues in East Hampton, it’s me. After all, I’m in the agricultural business and my livelihood has been compromised by deer trampling, and what some might call destruction, season after season for decades now. It’s a significant amount of damage from a business bottom-line perspective, but thank goodness my morals outweigh my desire for financial gain.
As a businessman, I would certainly like to see a solution. However, I'm not prepared to have these innocent animals lured and killed any more than I would be prepared to take out a gun and shoot down my neighbor’s dog who may wander into my pastures and trample my beautiful flowers.
While I agree we need to do something, please take careful notice that I’m not calling it a Deer Problem, because the deer are not the problem. The problem is our inability to arrive at a workable way to live among them. And yet we’re supposed to be the intelligent beings in this equation.
Let’s not forget that wildlife was here before we were. It’s not a question of deer invading our space, it’s the other way around. There is a global mentality of simply bulldozing wildlife out of their habitats to promote industrial and residential development, while the animals continue to mean us no harm. They are innocent, doing the best they can to survive amidst circumstances they did not create. They should be punishing us, not the other way around.
As a civilized society breeding excellent parents and the best educators, we’ve put great focus on teaching our children all about the wildlife of the world from a very young age. Think story-book farm animals and you’ll get the picture. We’re rightfully teaching children to love and respect all life forms. Our Native American History studies, lest we forget, teach us to respect Mother Earth and all her creatures, to take only what we need, and leave the land as we found it. At what point in the education curriculum do we shift gears so swiftly and start teaching our youth to barbarically assault any living thing that poses a perceived threat to them or their precious inanimate belongings?
We’ve completely lost sight of what and why we educate in the first place because it seems that as soon as they enter the “real world”, even our most highly-educated members of society can simply forget everything they learned. That’s a real shame and I feel sad for those who didn’t see past the pretty pictures and understand the fundamental story-book lessons. Instead, they try to condescend us with sarcastic comments about Bambi that only serve to reveal that it is they who truly missed the point. Are our leaders so detached that they really believe these stories from our youth were meant purely as amusement, and not as a means of educating us on the life forms we share this planet with? Is that why we’ve become a society that blatantly contradicts everything we learned at school? Is that why we’ve become a society that defaces the most basic moralistic values of living; because most of our leaders, in fact, should have flunked the first grade for failing to understand the most rudimentary of life lessons: share the earth and love all living things?
It seems to me there should be a vast emotional and intellectual distance between wanting to put a stop to something and wanting to kill it. Those two outcomes should never have become one and the same, but more and more in this society, those mentalities have merged. If something’s in your way, take out your gun and shoot it dead. Don’t bother with alternative possibilities to address the situation. Much of America has embraced this easy-way-out mentality, and we’re becoming disturbingly comfortable with senseless killing. If you believe I’m exaggerating, I invite you to step outside our borders as I have done many times and learn how our neighbors and friends in other civilized nations view us Americans. It’s shameful.
I’m not a tree hugger and I’m not an extremist of any belief. I’m also very aware of some of the potential problems that may exist by virtue of sharing land with wildlife. In fact, I don’t think anyone is denying there are potential risks.
I’ve been a proud resident of East Hampton my entire life. I know and appreciate all there is to love here, and I feel very fortunate that we have the strong leadership that has kept us in the ranks of most desirable destinations, a cut above the average American village, a place to be truly envied by the rest of the nation. I always believed that a large part of that appeal wasn’t just our pristine beauty, but our truth, our values, our way of life as a people. It seems to me now that we are behaving no better than some of the least desirable neighborhoods in this country. We are making headlines for all the wrong reasons. As a taxpaying lifelong resident here, I have to ask my leaders why. Why are we stooping so low? Why are we taking the easy way out? Why are you, as human beings, okay with this?
There is a better way, and we in East Hampton are not only worthy of it, we owe it to our community to live up to our reputation, to continue to earn our elevated cost of living, and set a better example that shows the country why we are envied. If we don’t, we risk lowering ourselves to just another status-quo American small town, only worse because our poor moral choices will stand out and make the news for the dichotomy of what we once were vs. what we’ve become.
I know you’re placing the health and safety of our residents and tourists above all else and for that, you must be rightfully commended. I conclude this to be the driving force behind these actions because nothing else makes sense. It’s not like we have hundreds of acres of farmland to protect. Here in East Hampton, we have a total of fewer than five acres of currently active farmland; hardly enough to warrant the excessive measures and enormous cost of bringing in sharpshooters from the Department of Agriculture. So it must be the safety issue, which I’m certain every last resident supports, but I ask you again dear leaders, in lieu of culling: Have we discussed posting warning signs along the highways, to keep drivers aware of wildlife, and perhaps make them a bit more cautious? Have we discussed using advertising to remind people of the presence of wildlife, just as we do to remind people to slow down when the back-to-school season arrives, or to use more caution when the roads are icy? Have we discussed the possibility of using targeted contraception to limit the growth of the deer population? Have we discussed working with the licensed hunters to arrive at an alternate solution? Regarding the specific issue of ticks and Lyme disease, which cannot and should not be attributed solely to deer, have we discussed addressing the problem via any one of the effective methods utilized by less fortunate communities? If ticks are really the problem, we should be having this conservation, because we all know ticks aren’t transferred solely from deer. There are natural, harmless ways to address a tick problem. And finally, I would respectfully ask why there is no discussion of simply relocating the deer to a safe habitat where they can carry out their natural lives with less interference from us.
And if despite our sincere pleas and best efforts, the culling is to go forward, whom may I ask is policing this process? Whom is keeping you, our leaders, honest and accountable for what you do and how you do it? In fact, I’d like to know where in the United States Constitution it is stated that as an elected community leader, you have the legal right to kill at your discretion? Where in our constitution does it say community leaders have the right to arbitrarily decide to take the life of a given species that they deem a nuisance. Hunting is strictly regulated and closely monitored, and hunting outside of the stated season and parameters carries lawful penalties, so how on earth is culling not illegal?
Last Saturday, I attended a peaceful rally coordinated by the East Hampton Group for Wildlife. There was vast support for an alternate method of handling ourselves among the wildlife. We were not just exercising our right to protest and there are in fact legal avenues being pursued to put a stop to the culling before it is executed. While I feel it shouldn’t have come to this, I support the effort. I wish common sense would have led to an acceptable course of action sooner.
Drastic measures have become so commonplace around us that they aren't even viewed as drastic anymore. It’s not the deer that are devaluing us or spoiling our appeal, it’s our behavior as a society. If we adopt the barbaric mentality that is poisoning the rest of this country, we’re defeating the very qualities that made us different, unique, leaders. We immediately lose our status as the exclusive destination we once were.
East Hampton is better than this. Let’s work together and prove it.