Deer and Vegetation Research on Fire Island
Fire Island National Seashore has been involved in a number of vegetation and deer monitoring programs over the past 40+ years. During surveys of plants in the Sunken Forest in the late 1960s, no deer were reported. From studies conducted in preparation of the Seashore's draft master plan and 1978 general management plan (GMP), signs of deer browse were evident in the Sunken Forest and 46 deer were observed in an island-wide aerial census conducted in 1971. In 1974, Fire Island's deer herd was estimated at 50 individuals. By the early 1980s, deer abundance and their impacts on vegetation were beginning to be noticeable across the island, and by 1989, the deer population was close to 500. By the mid-1990s, deer had become very abundant within the Fire Island communities, and a deer fertility study was initiated on Fire Island.
In 2003 the deer population was estimated to be 500-700. From population density studies conducted over the past several years, it is estimated that 300-400 deer now live on Fire Island.
Deer and vegetation research will inform the development and implementation of a White-tailed Deer Management Plan and Environmental Impact Statement (Deer Plan/EIS). The Deer Plan/EIS will address issues associated with the number, distribution, and behavior of deer on Fire Island.
Deer Movement Study
Together with park staff, researchers from the State University of New York School of Environmental Science and Forestry have begun a White-tailed Deer Movement Study on Fire Island. In phases over the course of three years, researchers will fit 75 female deer with small, GPS-enabled radio-collars to track how the deer move about the island.
Bait stations will be used to draw deer within a safe distance for the remote delivery of an approved anesthetic. The animal will be under anesthesia during the entire time the collar is being fitted and placed around the deer's neck. While under anesthesia, researchers will continuously monitor the animal's vital signs (temperature, pulse, respiration) to make sure the animal is calm and doing well under anesthesia. In addition, researchers will draw blood and collect ticks for further analyses to obtain baseline information on the health of the deer in the study. A reversal agent will then be administered and the animal's recovery from sedation will be monitored.
The collars are designed to automatically release from the animals after about 10 months. This means it will not be necessary to handle the animals a second time. During the 10 month period, radio frequency transmitters affixed to the collars will allow technicians to monitor the health and safety of each collared animal once a week.
The information collected from the collared deer will complement existing vegetation and deer population monitoring efforts essential to the development and implementation of Fire Island National Seashore's Deer Plan/EIS.
For more information, please visit the National Park Service Planning, Environment and Public Comment website.
Vegetation Studies on Fire Island
In 1967, the National Park Service established permanent vegetation plots in the Sunken Forest to measure long-term changes. These plots were resurveyed in 1986. In 2002, mapping and classification of park vegetation communities was conducted, and the Sunken Forest plots were resurveyed. The plots were studied again in 2011.
More than forty years of vegetation studies in Fire Island's Sunken Forest reveal an alarming reduction in the number of herbaceous plants and small trees in the understory of this rare maritime holly forest. Some scientists are concerned that the types of trees we see today like the old growth American holly, and sassafras, shadblow and black gum are not growing in the understory at densities high enough to support regeneration of the Sunken Forest.
Deer Population Studies
By the mid-1990s, deer had become very abundant within the Fire Island communities. In 1995, U.S. Geological Survey scientists recommended distance sampling as a new ground-based method of estimating deer abundance. Initial distance sampling surveys within Fire Island communities estimated a density of 80 deer/km2. Other areas, both within Fire Island communities and other areas of the park, were added to the annual distance sampling survey effort by 1999, and continue today.
The following reports contain deer population data:
Deer Fertility Control Research on Fire Island: 1993-2009
In February 2006, in order to study the efficacy of administering PZP at alternate times, the Seashore and HSUS initiated a winter deer-darting operation from Cornielle Estates to Sailors Haven. Winter darting was also conducted in 2007 and 2008.
While many people feel that the fertility control project was successful, this was only conducted as research and not as a component of an approved management plan. The results of this long-term fertility control study will be taken into consideration in the development of Fire Island National Seashore's Deer Management Plan/EIS.
Studies of Human-Deer Interactions: 2003 - 2007
4-Poster Tick Management Technology Study on Fire Island: 2008-2011
For more information on study results, please visit Cornell University's Wildlife Control Information website.
The results of these studies and reports will be taken into consideration in the development of Fire Island National Seashore's Deer Plan/EIS, which began in 2011.
Whenever possible, natural processes are relied upon to maintain native plant and animal species and influence natural fluctuations in populations of these species. The National Park Service may intervene when certain criteria are met. (2006 Management Policies, Chapter 4, Section 4.4.2).