Protection of Fire Island Deer

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Through this litigation, AWI and Wildlife Preserves seek to prevent the killing of white-tailed deer within the Fire Island National Seashore (FINS), which is located in Suffolk County, New York, and managed by the National Park Service (NPS). FINS was established to preserve nearly 19,600 acres of land comprising beaches, dunes, and other natural features. Over 400 deer live within FINS. In 2016, the NPS adopted a White-tailed Deer Management Plan (Plan) that called for fencing a portion of FINS to exclude deer and for reducing the deer population through a combination of sharpshooting by government agents, public hunting, and capture and euthanasia.

Case Name: Animal Welfare Institute and Wildlife Preserves, Inc. v. Kelly Fellner, in her official capacity as Acting Superintendent of Fire Island National Seashore, and the US National Park Service, Civil Action No. 17-cv-6952

Nature of Case: In November 2017, AWI and Wildlife Preserves filed suit against the NPS challenging its Record of Decision (ROD), in which it adopted the Plan allowing for lethal management of deer within FINS. The complaint asserts that the NPS’s adoption of the ROD violated New York property law, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the NPS’s Organic Act (the law that established the NPS), and the law’s implementing regulations and policies.

Plaintiffs allege that the NPS violated a deed restriction and, thus, violated New York property law. In 1955, Wildlife Preserves conveyed land that is now part of FINS to Sunken Forest Preserve, Inc., which in turn conveyed the land to the United States in 1966. Both deeds contain provisions requiring that the parcels be maintained in their natural state and operated as a preserve for the maintenance of wildlife and its natural habitat. The NPS violated the deed restrictions when it authorized, through the Plan, the killing of white-tailed deer by hunters, by sharpshooters, or through capture and euthanasia, as well as by authorizing the construction of a fence around approximately 44 acres of a rare maritime holly forest from which deer would be driven out or killed.

The complaint also asserts that the NPS violated NEPA by failing to adequately consider nonlethal alternatives to deer management, and by failing to properly analyze the full suite of environmental impacts of the Plan, among numerous other violations. NEPA requires federal agencies to assess the environmental impacts of certain proposed actions and is designed to ensure that agencies engage in fully informed decision-making, which includes consideration of a reasonable range of alternatives. The complaint also alleges that the NPS violated its Organic Act by permitting hunting of deer in FINS. Sport hunting of wildlife within NPS units is not permitted unless it is explicitly provided for in the legislation creating the specific unit.

Plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief to (1) allow Wildlife Preserves to recover possession of the land conveyed by the deed, (2) prohibit the NPS from executing the Plan on the portion of FINS that is subject to the deed, (3) determine that the ROD approving the culling of deer on the land subject to the deed violates NEPA, and (4) hold that the Plan violates NEPA and NPS regulations and policies. In response to the complaint, the NPS filed a motion to dismiss a portion of Plaintiffs’ claims. As of April 2020, the parties are still awaiting a ruling from the court on whether all Plaintiffs’ claims can proceed to the merits.

Court: United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York

Plaintiffs: Animal Welfare Institute and Wildlife Preserves, Inc.

Defendants: Kelly Fellner, Acting Superintendent of Fire Island National Seashore, and the US National Park Service

Status: Ongoing

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