NEW YORK CITY — An uptick in deer sightings — along with raptors and coyotes — has prompted the Parks Department to develop a separate Wildlife Unit that will focus on finding ways New Yorkers can live peacefully with our wild neighbors, DNAinfo New York has learned.
The new department will focus on education and the policy decisions made by the city about its wild animal population — which continues to grow for a number of reasons, one of which is improved parks and green spaces, officials said.
"I think there is a need for New Yorkers to be engaged and told that these animals are here, and they are a benefit," said Richard Simon, who's been tapped to be the new director of the Parks Department's Urban Park Rangers Wildlife Unit.
The animals — from raptors to coyotes to deer — are "part of the fabric of New York City now, and I'm hoping we can connect New Yorkers to these animals," he said. "New Yorkers need more guidance and information on how to respond, interact, and co-exist with animals."
A baby raccoon. (Parks Department.)
"A lot of the work that needs to be done around wildlife management is behind the scenes, developing plans, interviewing experts, making policy recommendation."
The Wildlife Unit is in the process of hiring for its 11-person team, who will work in administrative roles as well as in the field.
While outreach and education on wildlife has been an integral part of the Urban Park Rangers, it will expand under the Wildlife Unit — with a focus on the policy and planning throughout multiple agencies.
Every borough has seen its share of wildlife — coyotes in Queens, Manhattan and The Bronx, raccoons "terrorizing" a Harlem block, and hawks protecting their babies in Queens.
While there wasn't one particular incident that led to the Wildlife Unit, the recent influx of deer on Staten Island was a major influence, Aucoin said.
"There's practical reasons to engage people," she said.
Their deer management plan, for example, looks at many ways to limit the animal's population as well as educate residents on how they can co-exist. They'll work on an education campaign to teach drivers how to react to deer on the road, or which plants will detract them from homes and lawns.
Other wildlife issues, including an expanding coyote population and piping plovers along city beaches, will also fall under the new unit.
"It's managing human behavior as much as it is managing the animals," Aucoin said.