Hochul Vetoes Ban On Hunting Near LI Wildlife Rescue Center

HAMPTON BAYS, NY — Animal advocates on the East End are dismayed after Gov. Kathy Hochul vetoed a bill that would have banned hunting near the Evelyn Alexander Wildlife Rescue Center in Hampton Bays — where a deer was shot and killed in January.

Months after the deer was shot just feet from the Evelyn Alexander Wildlife Rescue Center in Hampton Bays, lawmakers — responding to serious concerns that staff or visitors at the facility might be injured — signed a bill in June that would ban hunting on that parcel in the future

But that bill was vetoed once it got to Hochul’s desk, according to the New York State Senate website.

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John Di Leonardo, anthrozoologist and president of Humane Long Island, was outraged: “Wildlife rehabilitators should not have to work in fear of being shot and killed at the Hamptons’ only wildlife hospital, where many patients are being treated for gunshot wounds to begin with ” he said. “With Governor Hochul signing both the Puppy Mill Pipeline Bill and the Cruelty-Free Cosmetics Act this week, we know that she cares about animals — however, this bill is not about animal welfare. It is about public safety. We are confident that once her office better understands the danger our Long Island rehabilitators are facing, she will sign it when it passes nearly unanimously once again.”

Alexander Wildlife Center Executive Director Virginia Frati said she was “disappointed and disheartened” by the news.

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“I just can’t believe that nobody cared about the safety of the employees,” she said. “We’ve had so many close calls, with hunters not where they were supposed to be; we’ve found arrows.”

Frati said she has seen “No Hunting” signs with bullet holes. “The way this property is configured is what makes it unique — the hunting trail ends right at our building. It’s not just a patch of woods.”

Frati said she is hopeful New York State Assemblyman Fred Thiele will reintroduce the bill, but added that it would take time to pass. She added that she was surprised, with Hochul’s focus on gun safety and animal protection, that she wouldn’t sign the legislation.

The measure received bipartisan support and only needed to be signed by Hochul.

Frati said she has seen hunters on the property and adjacent to the rescue center for years.

And, she noted: “We were here first. That’s important, because I never would have picked a place that was near hunting.”

The friar said she and her staff still mourn the deer that died despite her desperate efforts to save it; they have put up a lighted memorial, which includes a statue of a deer, at the very spot where the deer was shot.

“I think about it all the time, absolutely,” Friar said. “At least if this passes, the deer didn’t die in vain.”

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 Frati — leaving staffers at the facility fearful for their own safety and for those walking and bicycling on the nearby trail.

The problem is not new, Friar 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.

According to Thiele, the bill, which he sponsored in the New York State Assembly and which was sponsored by 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.

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

“The Center has raised safety concerns 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 a 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.”

In past months, Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming thanked Thiele, Palumbo and all involved in creating change.

“Legislation was passed that protects the wildlife center and ensures that hunting will not put the safety of the center’s workers or animals in danger,” she said.

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 found a deer near the animal holding 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,” Friar 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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