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The socialite Helen Lee Schifter bought a new sports car at the beginning of the summer, doing her part, she says, to “stimulate the economy.” And she’s happy with the purchase, save for the fact that she’s listened to an awful lot of ewwws from her daughter as they pass the roadkill littering Sagaponack, N.Y.
Former New York Times Style writer Alex Kuczynski, meanwhile, has been encountering remnants of the recently departed while riding around in nearby Southampton. “I’ve seen two dead squirrels on South Main Street this summer, and I’ve never seen two dead squirrels on South Main Street before.”
Kuczynski also has been beeping at the ones who seem to be running right in front of her car. “I’ve never had to beep at squirrels before. And I’ve definitely done that four or five times this summer. It’s only July.”
Every driver at some point encounters roadkill. If it isn’t a possum, it’s a skunk, and if it isn’t a skunk, it’s a rabbit — or worse, a deer, which have been a problem here for years.
Still, in the Hamptons this summer, behavioral changes among other mammals and stagnating resources during the recession are creating a new kind of sightseeing.
“This has been a very big year for roadkill,” says Larry Penny, who heads the town of East Hampton’s natural resources department. He estimates that unintentional exterminations of the local wildlife are up 25 to 30 percent this year, but that clean-up crews haven’t beefed up accordingly.
Yes, it’s true — even folks in the idyllic Hamptons must learn to make do with less. Or, in this case, more.
“It’s not like Mexico where that same dead cow will be there for two or three weeks before someone removes the carcass,” Penny says, “but I think it’s taking a little longer to get things off the road.”
But what’s causing the increasing bloodshed in the first place?
First, an acorn shortage that has swept the Eastern End of Long Island. That means squirrels and other critters are crossing to road as they forage farther to get their food.
Second, a mange problem has depleted the fox population, according to Virginia Frati of the Wildlife Rescue Center in the Hamptons. “It’s a microscopic mite that burrows under the skin, becomes badly infected and causes them to die of dehydration and emaciation,” she says.
This is a problem because foxes are terrific at controlling the rabbit population. Without them, the bunnies run rampant — including in front of Mercedes Benzes and Audi A4s going 55 miles an hour along Route 27.
Still, some aren’t discounting the fact that drivers in the Hamptons are simply terrible and that road rage is rampant. “I see people being very mean to the animals,” says Steven Gaines, author of “Philistines at the Hedgerow,” the bestseller about gentrification of the East End over the last several decades.
Recently, Gaines was riding on the Sag Turnpike when he saw a box turtle crossing the road. Though box turtles are not yet an endangered species, their numbers are dwindling and their plight is of much concern to some of the locals.
So Gaines stopped his car and put on his blinkers. When another car approached from the other direction, he got out and began waving it down to stop.
It was of no use. “They just ran it over and it crunched and splattered right in front of me,” Gaines recalls. “It was terrible. One of the most terrible things I’ve ever seen. Next they’ll be doing that to people.”