CITY HALL — A Staten Islander found bones and decaying deer carcasses at the state’s unauthorized mass grave last week.
Wildlife photographer Tom Puma was deep in the brush and overgrowth of Mount Loretto Unique Area state park around 10 a.m. on Dec. 30 when he came across several dead deer in various stages of decomposition near the eastern shoreline.
“There was a deer carcass, maybe 8 feet away from me… I turned around and saw another one, and then maybe another 10 feet away there was another one,” Puma said. “There were bones everywhere.”
Some of the deer had some or all of their heads missing. Others were reduced to just teeth, skulls and other bones.
Puma stepped on what he thought was twigs — but they were bones.
“I started to get a little freaked out,” said Puma, who lives in Tompkinsville. “I thought somebody was either coming in there and killing them or maybe they all were together and ate something that poisoned them.”
The state said the deer died of “natural causes.”
When Puma left the park he saw a state forest ranger who told him the area was a disposal site for deer hit by cars on Staten Island.
“When I told the him what I found he was like, ‘Yeah, that’s why you’re not supposed to leave the trail,’” Puma said.
Officials told the Advance these deer were actually improperly disposed by staff with the state Department of Environmental Conservation, or DEC.
Deceased deer are supposed to be buried, incinerated or disposed in landfills, according to recommendations from the DEC, which oversees the park and regulates wildlife.
This is meant to protect surface and groundwater from contamination.
“In this instance, DEC staff deposited deer remains in a remote area of Mount Loretto Unique Area and did not follow proper agency procedures for burial,” DEC spokesman Sean Mahar said. “The deer had died from natural causes on state property or from being hit by vehicles on Hylan Boulevard, and are scheduled to be buried this week according to DEC recommendations.”
A deer corpse can take between a few weeks or up to several months to decompose into bone if left outside, depending on temperature.
The state plans to bury the deer Puma found in Mount Loretto, though specific locations hadn’t been determined on Wednesday afternoon.
Disposing several dead deer in the same place is not state protocol.
Deer are supposed to be buried underground, under at least 2 feet of soil and at least 200 feet away from wells used to supply drinking water.
New York state’s towns and cities are responsible for getting rid of dead deer found on highways or in public places — though in certain cases DEC disposes those found on state land like Mount Loretto Unique Area.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU FIND A DEAD DEER
Staten Islanders who find deer carcasses are asked to call the city’s non-emergency line at 311 and be specific about the location. While the mass deer grave was found on state land, the city handles carcasses on its property.
Dead deer found in city parks are removed and disposed or relocated to an inconspicuous area to decompose naturally. A Sanitation Department contractor removes dead deer on city roads.
DEC said the deer hit by cars on Hylan Boulevard and found at the site had already entered adjacent Mount Loretto, making them DEC’s responsibility.
The state recommends that anyone who finds dead wildlife should report the case to the DEC at 718-482-4900 if the animal died from questionable causes or is suspected of being rabid before death.
Mass or recurring mortality in wildlife should also be reported to the state, as should any animals found dead with tags.
So far 543 male deer have gotten vasectomies through the city’s plan to cut down Staten Island’s white-tailed herd.
Puma said finding the dead deer was the “freakiest thing” that’s ever happened to him. He prefers to photograph living wildlife.
“I’m never going back there into those areas again,” he said. “It looked like a fallout, a mass suicide or something — it was really bizarre.”