After Deer Shot Near Wildlife Rescue, New Law Bans Hunting On Parcel

HAMPTON BAYS, NY — Months after a deer was shot just feet from the Evelyn Alexander Wildlife Rescue Center in Hampton Bays, lawmakers have passed a bill that will ban hunting on that parcel in the future.

On Jan. 4, shots were fired by a hunter on the New York State Department of Conservation’s Henrys Hollow Pine Barrens state forest property; the hunter was later charged, the DEC said.

When the shots were fired, one slug went through a cage and came close to workers at the wildlife rescue, missing by just a few feet, said Executive Director Virginia Frati — leaving staffers at the facility fearful for their own safety and for those walking and Bicycling on the nearby trail.

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The problem is not new, Frati said. For about 20 years, she said she has been imploring Suffolk County officials to terminate an agreement that allows hunters to traverse a strip of county-owned land to reach the New York State-sanctioned Henry’s Hollow hunting area adjacent to that parcel.

But now, hope is on the horizon: According to New York State Assemblyman Fred Thiele, the bill, sponsored by Thiele in the New York State Assembly and New York State Senator Anthony Palumbo in the Senate, only applies to one 200-acre parcel in the entire state — the state-owned land at Henry’s Hollow adjacent to the Evelyn Alexander Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, which is part of Munn’s Pond County Park.

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The Center has leased the property for more than 20 years, before any hunting was permitted, Thiele said.

“The Center has raised safety for many years with violations of the buffer,” Thiele said; he added that although a larger buffer from the DEC, all that was agreed to was additional signage, which led to the legislation.

The situation, Thiele said, is “unique. There are only three parking spaces. Hunters have to cross the Center’s property to get to the state property — hence, all the conflicts.”

And, Thiele added that the legislation is “not an anti-hunting bill. I have passed bills that increase hunting opportunities on the East End. This is a safety issue.”

Palumbo voiced similar sentiments: “This was a very specific situation and the legislation only applies to this specific parcel regarding a safety concern at the wildlife center,” he said. “As senator, I continue to support our hunters and all avenues to reduce the deer population on the East End. This bill was limited in scope and was passed with broad bipartisan support.”

Gov. Kathy Hochul needs to sign the bill to enact the legislation.

Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming thanked Thiele, Palumbo and all involved in creating change. “Legislation was passed that protects the wildlife center and ensure that hunting will not put the safety of the center’s workers or animals in danger,” she said.

Frati was overjoyed at the news that hunting will be banned near the wildlife rescue: “I am so encouraged that our state lawmakers passed this legislation,” she said. “This is not an animal rights issue. This is a public safety issue, in that we have found hunters and paraphernalia near our caging buildings on many documented occasions. It is my hope that the governor will sign this bill and end the torment we have been experiencing for 18 years.”

According to the NYSDEC, environmental conservation officers Jacob Clark and Rob McCabe received a complaint from workers at the wildlife rescue center in Hampton Bays about a hunter who shot a deer on their property. The officers responded and holding a deer near the animal area behind the center, the DEC said.

The ECOs questioned the hunter, who said he entered from a legal hunting co-op parking spot and had mistakenly walked into an area where hunting is prohibited, the DEC said.

The DEC environmental conservation officers also found bullet holes in the fence and damage to a door of an animal housing and storage shed, the DEC said.

Additionally, ECO Christopher DeRose and K-9 Cramer also responded and found three spent shotgun shells within 500 feet of the occupied buildings, the DEC said.

It is illegal to discharge a firearm within 500 feet of a structure in use unless you own it, lease it, or have the owner’s permission, according to the DEC’s website.

Describing the gunshots that rang out outside the rescue center, Frati said she was horrified by what she found when she ran outside to investigate.

“I saw that a hunter had shot a deer which was lying, still alive, near our raccoon pens,” she said.

She picked up the deer, her arms, face, pants and glasses covered with its blood, and tried in vain to save it, she said. But despite her best attempts, the deer died.

“It was the most horrible, traumatic thing I’ve ever experienced,” Frati said. “I was just sobbing.”

Although the hunter had been about 40 feet away, “The deer dropped to the ground literally three feet from one of our cages,” Frati said. “There should not be a hunting area near a wildlife center. That’s like putting a porn shop or an adult book store next to a children’s playground.”

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