New Backcountry Camping procedures
Reservations for required permits must be obtained through Recreation.gov. Due to the breach at Old Inlet, access to both east and west wilderness camping zones must now be from Davis Park or access points west, and involve a 2½ to 10 mile hike. More »
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 300-500 deer now live on Fire Island.
As a result of high deer densities on Fire Island there is increased concern about associated human health and safety risks, the island's native vegetation and the island's deer and other wildlife.
Robert Cushman Murphy provided one of the earliest reports on the vegetation of Fire Island's Sunken Forest in his July-August 1933 article for Natural History Magazine, August on Fire Island Beach. In 1953, Oakleigh Thorne, II, provided additional documentation of vegetation in The Sunken Forest of Fire Island Beach, N.Y., his masters thesis for Yale University. Thorne documented the preservation and establishment of the Sunken Forest Preserve, which became a major component of Fire Island National Seashore when the park was established in 1964.
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.
In preparation of Fire Island National Seashore's 1978 general management plan, an island-wide aerial census was conducted in 1971, and 46 deer were observed. From 1983 to 1998, park staff conducted an aerial count of deer twice a year. In 1985, park staff initiated a study of deer home range, movements, physiological parameters and incidence of Lyme disease in ticks. By 1989, the deer population on Fire Island was estimated at 500 individuals.
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:
There are currently approximately 300-500 deer on Fire Island and about 140 deer at the 613-acre William Floyd Estate.
Deer density, or the number of deer per square mile (DPSM), varies widely between locations on Fire Island and within park boundaries. (This number is frequently provided as "deer per square kilometer," or deer/km2, in many studies.) See Table 3 on page 10 of White-tailed Deer Ecology and Management on Fire Island National Seashore (September 2005).
The number of deer, however, is not as important as the impacts related to their abundance and distribution.
In 1993, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) initiated a research project to determine whether remotely administered a porcine zona pellucida (PZP) immunocontraceptive vaccine could be used as a practical and effective deer management tool on Fire Island. Fire Island National Seashore participated in this long-term deer fertility control project, working cooperatively with university scientists from State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY ESF), and several Fire Island communities and volunteers. A fall deer darting program continued from 1993 through 2009, with bait stations set up in September to lure deer into appropriate areas where female deer could be darted with PZP, which prevents does from becoming pregnant.
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 also was 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. When the results of this project were published in 2009, it no longer qualified as "research," and was no longer permitted to be used. Because of complex issues related to the use of PZP or other immunocontraceptive vaccines for research, plans for a continued or new research project in 2010/11 were not able to be conducted on Fire Island.
The results of this long-term fertility control study will be taken into consideration in the development of alternatives for Fire Island National Seashore's White-tailed Deer and Vegetation Management Plan.
Fire Island National Seashore hosted a 2003-2007 research project relating to human-wildlife interactions. Cornell University scientists interviewed Fire Island residents to better understand their response to the abundance and behavior of white-tailed deer on Fire Island. The researchers reported damage to gardens, Lyme disease transmission and sanitation issues as the major concerns of residents. A description of the project can be found in the report, Deer, People and Parks.
Cornell University's Deer, People, and Parks reports:
In 2007, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) and Cornell University initiated a 3-year 4-Poster Tick Management Technology Study on Fire Island to determine the efficacy and risks associated with applying low levels of pesticides to white-tailed deer to control the spread of ticks and the diseases they carry. Deer play an indirect role in the transmission of Lyme disease to people because they serve as a primary host to ticks. From 2008 - 11, two 4-Poster Tick stations were placed within two Fire Island communities. These stations, filled with corn, were used to study the effect of the pesticide, Permethrin, on tick abundance. In order to feed at a station, deer pass their head and neck through rollers that applied the pesticide. Regular tick "drags" were carried out in the immediate vicinity to monitor the number of ticks.
Use of the 4-Poster device was approved by NYS DEC for an additional year, and Fire Island National Seashore extended the special use permit for the devices in 2012.
Results from this study will be especially helpful in management decisions regarding the tick-borne bacteria that causes Lyme disease. 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 White-tailed Deer and Vegetation Management Plan, 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).
Did You Know?
Whales and other marine mammals live in the ocean south of Fire Island. Occasionally, they are can be spotted from shore, and rarely a dead whale will wash ashore. More...