White-tailed Deer Management Plan

The National Park Service (NPS) initiated a white-tailed deer management planning effort in 2011 in an effort to preserve and restore natural ecosystems in peril on Fire Island; to preserve the historically significant landscape at the William Floyd Estate on Long Island; and to reduce human-wildlife conflicts.

On April 28, 2016, the NPS Northeast Regional Director approved Fire Island National Seashore's Final Deer Plan/Environmental Impact Statement (Final Plan/EIS) through a record of decision. The plan was developed in cooperation with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC), U.S. Department of Agriculture –Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services (USDA - APHIS), and with public involvement.

The plan sets forth an integrated management strategy which provides a suite of options to protect the globally rare Sunken Forest and other natural areas on Fire Island, including the maritime forest at Carrington, Talisman, Blue Point, and Watch Hill/Wilderness; and, to maintain the historic landscape at the William Floyd Estate, a unit of the seashore located in Mastic Beach on Long Island.

The integrategrated deer management strategy includes:

  • enhanced education and outreach
  • enhanced deer and vegetation monitoring
  • fencing
  • a combination of deer removal operations (on NPS properties), capture and euthanasia of individual deer (where appropriate), and public hunting (within the Fire Island Wilderness only) to achieve the plan objectives (estimated at 20-25 deer per square mile)
  • the option for fertility control to maintain deer density when a fertility control agent which meets NPS criteria becomes available (NPS criteria may be found in the Final Deer Plan/EIS on pages 39-41, and more information on the development of these criteria may be found in Appendix E on page E-8. Additional information on fertility control may be found in Appendix D.)

The final plan and planning documents may be viewed on the NPS Planning, Environment and Public Comment (PEPC) at the link below in the FAQs.

 

2020 Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Fire Island National Seashore White-tailed Deer Management Plan?

The National Park Service (NPS) initiated a comprehensive and public planning process in 2011 to address issues related to an increase in white-tailed deer abundance and changes in deer distribution and behavior. The plan was approved in April, 2016. Planning documents may be found online at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/FireIslandDeerManagementPlan.

The goals of the plan are to:

  • Preserve and restore natural forest habitats including a globally rare maritime forest ecosystem that is in peril on Fire Island and preserve the historically significant cultural landscape at the William Floyd Estate.

  • Promote a greater understanding of a healthy, balanced ecosystem that can regenerate naturally and sustain all of the wildlife that depend on it for survival (including deer, birds, small mammals, amphibians, and reptiles).

  • Ensure a safe experience for park visitors by keeping wildlife wild and reducing direct encounters between humans and deer.

How will the plan achieve the above goals?

The approved deer management plan calls for an integrated management strategy to achieve a deer density goal of 20 to 25 deer per square mile on NPS lands. The strategy includes the following management tools:

  • education and outreach;

  • deer and vegetation monitoring;

  • fencing; and,

  • deer population reduction and maintenance through reduction operations; a public hunt only within Fire Island Wilderness, and the use of fertility control if an agent which meets all five of the NPS’ criteria becomes available.

When will management actions be implemented?

Throughout the beginning of the planning process in 2011, and since the plan’s approval, the NPS has conducted education and outreach and deer and vegetation monitoring efforts. These will continue through 2020 and subsequent years.

The first phase of the deer population reduction program occurred at the William Floyd Estate in February through March of 2019. The second phase will occur in winter 2020 at the William Floyd Estate and on federal lands on Fire Island. The window of operation for this second phase will be between March 1 to March 31, 2020.

Where will management actions occur?

Outreach and education takes place at all NPS sites throughout the Seashore, at the William Floyd Estate, and in Fire Island and gateway communities on Long Island. Deer and vegetation monitoring takes place at NPS sites throughout the Seashore and at the William Floyd Estate. Deer population surveys also take place within some Fire Island communities.

  • Deer reduction operations will be implemented only on larger NPS parcels of lands within the boundary of Fire Island National Seashore.

  • Winter 2020 and 2021 at the William Floyd Estate, a unit of the Seashore located in Mastic Beach on Long Island.

  • Winter 2020 and 2021 on Fire Island (NPS lands, large tracts only).

  • A public hunt was approved through the deer management plan and if and when planned would take place only within the Fire Island Wilderness on the eastern end of the Seashore. A public hunt has NOT been scheduled for 2020.

  • The primary focus of the NPS in Fire Island communities is enhanced education and outreach and deer monitoring. Upon request, the NPS will coordinate with communities and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) to develop community deer management plans.

How will deer reduction operations be implemented in 2020?

Qualified contractors will implement deer reduction operations at the William Floyd Estate and on Fire Island (NPS lands only) in winter 2020. These wildlife professionals are highly qualified and experienced in conducting wildlife reduction operations within lands adjacent to a suburban environment. They are trained firearm experts that will practice state-wide safety standards, such as not discharging firearms within 500 feet from houses and positioning themselves at heights to maintain safe operations.

The NPS will patrol public areas to ensure compliance with closed areas and ensure any other public safety measures that may be needed are taken.

How will the public be notified?

The public will be notified of area closures (for reduction operations) by appropriate means such as media releases, web or social media alerts, printed notices at NPS sites or other appropriate venues.

What will be done with the meat?

All meat safe for human consumption will be donated to local food banks. The NPS plans to work with Island Harvest, a local food bank in Hauppauge, New York. Island Harvest is the largest hunger relief organization on Long Island, delivering food to a network of 570 food pantries, soup kitchens, and non-profit organizations across Long Island.

During deer reduction operations conducted in early 2019 at the William Floyd Estate, a total of 25 deer were removed with more than 500 pounds of venison donated to Island Harvest.
During deer reduction operations conducted in 2020 at the William Floyd Estate and on Fire Island, a total of 230 deer were removed with more than 8,000 pounds of venison donated to Island Harvest.

How many deer will be taken in 2020 at the William Floyd Estate, and on NPS lands on Fire Island?

A total of 230 deer were removed from Fire Island National Seashore properties; 130 deer were removed from the William Floyd Estate, and 100 deer were removed from large federal tracts on Fire Island. The outcome of this year’s operation and deer and vegetation monitoring will guide deer population reduction/ maintenance operations and management into the future. Deer reduction operations will be carried out over a period of 3 years (2019-2021) to achieve a deer density goal of approximately 20 to 25 deer per square mile.

At the William Floyd Estate, the population density ranges from approximately 100 to 150 deer per square mile. On Fire Island, the population density can vary between locations, but the population density averages approximately 120 deer per square mile (densities range from 50 to 300 deer per square mile). Bringing the population densities to 20 to 25 deer per square mile will encourage a more balanced and healthy ecosystem that will support all wildlife.

Every fall, distance sampling will be conducted to know the current deer density ranges at the William Floyd Estate and on Fire Island to understand how deer reduction activities changed the deer population densities.

How was the desired deer density goal established?

Deer densities of 20 to 25 deer per square mile have been shown to allow for a healthier, more diverse forest habitat which can support a healthy deer herd as well as other native wildlife.

The initial density goal of 20 to 25 deer per square mile will be maintained until vegetation is given ample time to recover from over-browsing. Information collected through deer and vegetation monitoring will guide future management actions. The deer density goal can be adjusted if and when vegetation goals are reached.


Deer and Vegetation Monitoring

How many deer are there on Fire Island? How has that number changed over time?

Ground and aerial sampling methods have been used to estimate deer population sizes at the Seashore. Distance sampling (ground-based) surveys from 2016-2019 indicate there are approximately 400 deer on Fire Island and 100 deer at the William Floyd Estate. Every fall, distance sampling will be conducted to know the current deer density ranges at the William Floyd Estate and on Fire Island to understand how deer reduction activities changed the deer population densities.

When Fire Island National Seashore was established in 1964, deer were rarely observed. Aerial surveys documented 46 deer in 1971 and 500 in 1989. Ground-based surveys conducted since 1995 have estimated the deer population to be between 300 and 500 with a peak in 2003 of 700 deer.

At the William Floyd Estate, ground-based surveys conducted since 1996 have estimated the population to be between 80 and 240 deer.

How is the number of deer estimated?

Since 1995 surveys to estimate deer numbers, known as distance sampling surveys, have been conducted on Fire Island. Distance sampling is a ground-based method of estimating the number of animals in a given area which uses survey routes, or transects, within certain stretches of the island, referred to as tracts or study units, to estimate the total number of deer.

NPS lands were divided into the following study units for distance sampling: Robert Moses State Park, Lighthouse Tract, Kismet to Lonelyville, Ocean Beach to Ocean Bay Park, Sailors Haven, Fire Island Pines, Davis Park, Fire Island Wilderness and the William Floyd Estate. Each site is now surveyed every year.

What is the current state of Fire Island forests? Are there goals for vegetation?

White-tailed deer have depleted the native herbaceous, seedling, and sapling layers which prevents the ability of forests across Fire Island and at the William Floyd Estate to mature and regenerate. This also decreases habitat for a multitude of native wildlife species.

Vegetation goals are set to allow for regeneration and maintain forest structure over the long-term. The amount and type of young trees and shrubs in the understory are measured and help determine the ability of the forest to survive over the long-term.

In the globally rare Sunken Forest, vegetation goals are based on information collected in 1967, a time when the forest was thriving and capable of regeneration. The understory of the Sunken Forest is not currently capable of regeneration and this rare forest type could be lost forever. Other forest sites within the Seashore (like, Talisman and Blue Point) are also incapable of regeneration at this time. At the William Floyd Estate vegetation monitoring shows that the understory is severely threatened by deer browse.

How frequently are deer and vegetation surveys conducted?

Both deer and vegetation monitoring efforts have been enhanced to provide a better understanding of the deer population and habitat condition. Deer surveys are conducted every year at all survey sites across Fire Island and at the William Floyd Estate. A long-term program for vegetation monitoring has been developed for maritime forests across Fire Island and will be carried out every 3-5 years to better detect changes in vegetation as a result of deer management. The information collected through deer and vegetation monitoring will be analyzed expeditiously to inform management actions the following year.

Deer Management Plan

Why is deer management needed?

White-tailed deer have depleted the native herbaceous, seedling, and sapling layers which prevents the ability of forests across Fire Island to mature and regenerate, and decreases habitat for a multitude of native wildlife species. The primary goal of the management plan is to reduce the size of the deer population and decrease the browsing pressure on maritime forest ecosystems and on the historic landscape at the William Floyd Estate.

In addition to resource degradation, “food-conditioned” deer – animals conditioned, or attracted, to a particular reward such as food – may pose safety concerns. Food-conditioned deer may approach humans or look for food in the Fire Island communities and in high visitor use areas on NPS lands. This may lead to undesirable human-wildlife interactions.

Why isn’t fertility control or surgical sterilization being used?

Fertility control is an option in the Deer Management Plan for maintaining the deer population once deer density is reduced to 20 to 25 deer per square mile. Fertility control is not an adequate deer reduction tool as it would take too long (10+ years) to achieve the desired deer density and then over 20 years for vegetation recovery to be fully realized when used on it’s own or in combination with fencing. Surgical sterilization was considered but dismissed during the planning process because it does not meet the NPS criteria (see below) and because the risk of deer mortality was not acceptable.

Once the desired deer density is achieved and if a fertility control agent which meets NPS criteria (see below) becomes available, fertility control may be used to maintain the deer population. These criteria consider NPS mission, law, and policy and were established in consultation with NPS technical experts and partner agencies.

Why isn’t Porcine Zona Pellucida (PZP) an acceptable fertility control agent?

At this time no fertility control agent, including PZP, meets all of the NPS criteria outlined in the Deer Management Plan (see below). The criteria call for a fertility control agent which:

  1. Is federally approved and state-registered for application to free-ranging white-tailed deer populations.

  1. Provides multiple-year (three or more) efficacy (80%–100%)

  1. Can be administered through remote injection to avoid capturing the animal on a regular basis and to increase the efficiency of distribution.

  1. Leaves no harmful residual in the meat (meat would be safe for human and non-target animal consumption).

  1. Has minimal impact on deer behavior (e.g., reproductive behaviors, social behaviors, out of season estrous cycling).

PZP is not considered to be an acceptable agent because it does not meet criterion 1, 2, or 5. PZP (ZonaStat-D) was federally approved for use in July 2017 by the Environmental Protection Agency. However, it has not been registered or approved as a management tool for free-ranging deer populations in New York State. PZP vaccines require repeated vaccination and, therefore, do not provide multiple year (more than three years) efficacy. PZP also has been shown to cause repeated estrous cycling in females which can result in late pregnancies and behavioral changes.

Was PZP previously used on Fire Island. Can it be used again?

PZP was used on Fire Island as part of a larger research study from 1993-2009. The use of PZP on Fire Island ended because the study questions were answered. In one area (Kismet to Lonelyville), it reduced deer numbers. In many other areas however it simply was not successful in reducing the number of deer over time. It can’t be used at this time because it does not meet the NPS criteria outlined above.

Why are human-deer interactions a problem?

While people may not agree on how best to manage the deer population, social science surveys conducted in Fire Island communities and adjacent to the William Floyd Estate showed that most residents agree on the following issues:

  • Impacts associated with the deer population size and density, movements, and behavior.

  • Impacts on landscaping and gardens; concerns about disease and ticks; sanitation issues; wildlife viewing opportunities; concerns about deer health; and interactions with pets.

  • Concerns about impacts on deer such as habitat loss and behavior changes.

In addition, the research revealed a majority of residents on Fire Island and almost half of residents in nearby communities on Long Island either worried about deer-related problems or did not enjoy deer at the Seashore.

Deer have become habituated to humans and conditioned to human food. This has led to undesirable human-deer interactions such as deer approaching humans, people feeding deer, and people inadvertently feeding deer by failing to secure trash cans or planting ornamental plants. Human-deer interactions are viewed as undesirable by the NPS because they raise the risk of injury to people and deer and increase the likelihood of property damage by deer.

What actions can people take to help?

Community members can help by planting deer-resistant plants and securing trash cans in residential, commercial, and visitor use areas. Residents and visitors to Fire Island must also maintain a safe distance, avoid approaching or touching deer, and not feed or provide supplemental food for these wild animals.

Can Fire Island communities participate in deer management with the National Park Service?

The primary focus of the NPS in Fire Island communities is enhanced education and outreach and deer monitoring. Upon request, the NPS will coordinate with communities and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to develop community deer management plans.

Have lawsuits regarding the plan been filed?

Two lawsuits were filed regarding the Deer Management Plan. The U.S. Attorney’s Office Eastern District of New York represents the Superintendent of the Seashore in both lawsuits.

The first lawsuit filed by Friends of Animals in November of 2016 has been resolved as of February 3, 2020. The courts ruled in the NPS favor that the Deer Management Plan is lawful under the National Environmental Policy Act and the Administrative Procedures Act.

The second lawsuit filed in 2017 by the Animal Welfare Institute and Wildlife Preserves, Inc. is still pending. The NPS cannot comment on pending court action or litigation.

Studying White-tailed Deer and Vegetation on Fire Island
White-tailed deer were rarely seen on Fire Island when the national seashore was established in 1964. In the late 1960s scientists began studying the Sunken Forest, a globally rare and centuries-old maritime forest on Fire Island.

For the past 50 years, researchers have returned to the Sunken Forest to survey plots established in 1967 to measure change in the amount and type of vegetation in the forest, and to understand how herbivores like white-tailed deer influence those changes.
Deer and vegetation research at Fire Island National Seashore has shown that white-tailed deer are the primary influence on the forest and are responsible for the decline seedling, sapling, and herbaceous plant recruitment.

In 1993 t
he Humane Society of the United States initiated a long-term study to investigate whether an immunocontraceptive vaccine, porcine zona pellucida (PZP) could be useful at Fire Island as a deer management tool. Fire Island National Seashore and the United States Geological Survey (USGS) partnered during the second and third phases of this study (Phase I: 1993-1997, Phase II: 1998-2002, Phase III: 2003-2009). The PZP study, conducted on Fire Island until 2009, showed mixed results.

Email us for a chronology of events related to deer and vegetation research and the white-tailed deer management plan.


Last updated: March 19, 2020

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