With the explosion of the deer population here on Staten Island in recent years, you had to figure something like this was going to happen: Poachers are illegally hunting the animals in parks and other open spaces in our borough, right next to residential neighborhoods.
That surprising trend was confirmed recently with the arrest of a man hunting with a bow and arrow in an area adjacent to Schmul Park in Travis. The Mariners Harbor man allegedly used bait to lure the deer to the park, which contains a playground. The poacher reportedly told the arresting officers that he had shot and killed an eight-point buck from the same location in 2013.
OK, so maybe there were no kids around the playground at the time our fearless hunter was stalking his prey, but still...
He faces multiple charges, some of them are punishable by up to a year in jail.
Then there was the case of the two deer recently found dead near the Church of St. Andrew in Richmond. It appeared they had wounds inflicted by a shotgun. How would you like to have for a neighbor someone willing to fire off a shotgun at the edge of a populated area? (Obviously, some of us do, but just don't know it.)
Dozens of dead deer found
Indeed, people have reported finding around two dozen dead deer around the borough in recent years. Many had their heads and antlers cut off as trophies. So we can eliminate the possibility that these animals were killed for meat, which is the historic rationale for hunting in the first place. No, these intrepid woodsmen simply wanted to kill something and take the head and antlers purely for show as trophies.
These poachers get no support from legitimate hunters, who pretty much despise them.
"Sportsmen, hunters and fishermen -- they don't like poachers; they hate them. Because they bring a bad name to their sport," one source told the Advance. "They're breaking all the rules. They're committing all sorts of safety atrocities. When you're poaching behind a playground, you're not really taking public safety into consideration."
To say the least.
In fact, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation officers who eventually caught up with the Schmul Park poacher reportedly got help in tracking him from members of the Zimmer Club and the Richmond Boro Gun Club, two Staten Island game-hunting organizations.
Public's help essential
The DEC recently deployed a three-officer team to track down the poachers. This came largely as the result of Michael Reilly, a retired police lieutenant and president of the Staten Island Community Education Committee, identifying the growing problem on his widely read Facebook page. Mr. Reilly reported to the DEC that he had found several dead deer in the Tottenville area, all of them with their heads cut off.
A DEC officer replied to him, saying the agency was aware of the problem and asking for the public's assistance.
Clearly, that a key. We're fortunate enough in this borough, despite all the development, to still have open areas and woodlands where deer can flourish. But those relatively remote areas also make it easier for poachers to conceal their illegal activity, so they usually can't be caught in the act. It takes an extensive investigation to identify and catch them, which is why the public's help is so important. As they say in the ads, if you see something, say something.
The poachers have to get the message that it's far too risky to shoot at deer around here. If they don't, it's only a matter of time until a stray bullet or arrow hits a resident or a pet... or a kid playing in a nearby playground.
Accidents are inevitable
And aside from the obvious need to stop these idiots from shooting at deer that sift through our communities now the animals are here in great numbers, the poaching phenomenon points to the larger question of what authorities such as the DEC and pertinent city agencies are prepared to do about the overall problem.
Tracking down poachers is one thing, but keeping roaming deer from wandering onto heavily traveled roads and highways and causing serious accidents is something else that should worry officials concerned about public safety.
But these officials, especially on the city level, seem to be unwilling to acknowledge a what is typically a problem or rural jurisdictions, and which, from the comfort of their Manhattan offices, they can't even fathom existing within the boundaries of the City of New York.
Not even a warning sign
The city Department of Transportation even refused to put up signs warning motorists of deer in the Greenbelt. That ignorance is something else that bodes ill. It's only a matter of time before an motor vehicle accident involving a deer causes serious injury or death, but the city, normally in nanny-state mode about every other threat to public safety, real and imagined, refuses to acknowledge the danger.
This many deer among this many people with this many cars is a formula for trouble. But, aside from lowlife poachers looking for trophies, it doesn't seem anyone is willing to do anything about it