What is beginning to look like an increasingly expensive deer management program is not the future for Shelter Island.
So said Deer and Tick Committee Chairman Mike Scheibel, who noted that the ultimate aim is to eventually be able to wean Shelter Island off 4-posters that reduce ticks, while also reducing the deer herd to manageable numbers.
His comments came in response to committee member Marc Wein, who said at Wednesday morning’s committee meeting that, while Islanders generally favor the program now, they’re not going to be supportive of a never ending and possibly growing program. He called for a “scientific approach” to determine the number of deer on the Island and tracking whether those numbers are increasing or decreasing.
Just to maintain the same level of deer in a community, 38 to 40 percent must be culled each year, Mr. Wein said. But it’s necessary to have as accurate a count as possible to know what the target is, he added.
Without a count, there’s no way of knowing whether the anticipated increase in deer killings this year is effectively diminishing the herd or just accounts for many more deer being on the Island, he said. The same would be true for the number of 4-poster units considered adequate to meet the need of killing ticks, Mr. Wein said.
But Mr. Scheibel, while not rejecting a scientific approach to the problem, said he wasn’t convinced that knowing the number of deer was critical to dealing with the problem. An aerial study conducted in the past proved both expensive and inadequate, he said. The committee needs to “monitor for success” by tracking incidents of tick borne diseases and vehicle accidents involving deer, he said.
At the same time, at Mashomack Preserve, where Mr. Scheibel is natural resources manager, forest monitoring of vegetation offers a good picture to determine if the deer herd is increasing or decreasing.
But ultimately, he agreed to speak with specialists Cornell Cooperative Extension who are looking at best methods of tracking deer counts.
This year, the town is spending $90,000 on the 4-posters while another $20,000 has come from contributors who support the program.
The plan is to deploy close to 40 units — six or eight of them at Mashomack Preserve to be paid by Mashomack — and at least 30 paid for with town money and contributions. Deployment is expected to start April 1. While Nick Ryan is now a certified applicator of permethrin, the toxin used to kill ticks, the town is still waiting for New York State Department of Environmental Conservation annual permits needed to allow pesticide use to continue on Shelter Island.
Committee members want to look back on data of tick drags conducted to determine the increase or decrease of the insect population and to establish a baseline to track the trends year to year.
“Surveying for ticks is a difficult thing,” Mr. Scheibel said.
It’s affected by factors such as the time of day the drags are conducted and weather patterns that proceed the drags, according to committee member Dr. Scott Campbell, who joined the discussion via telephone.
The deer hunt continues through March 31. So far, hunters have taken 165 does and 37 bucks this year, but that number doesn’t include the deer killed at Mashomack Preserve or Sylvester Manor. When those numbers are calculated, the total should be close to 300, Mr. Scheibel said.
Committee members James Colligan and Jackie Black have begun work on a report to be disseminated to Islanders and includes information on various methods used to control the deer and tick populations that have been tried in other communities.
Despite some criticism from the community and questions about the need, the committee hasn’t given up the hope of hiring a wildlife manager to tackle the jobs currently being done by various town employees. Members agreed they need to provide the Town Board with a comprehensive report on how much time is being devoted to the various aspects of the program.
“That’s a good way to keep the issue alive,” said Supervisor Jim Dougherty, one of the liaisons to the Deer and Tick Committee.