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Deer kills up, but money to continue efforts is tight

REPORTER FILE PHOTO | Numbers for the deer harvest are up, but may be deceiving.

REPORTER FILE PHOTO | Numbers for the deer harvest are up, but may be deceiving.

The numbers are encouraging.

But don’t read too much into the fact that about 350 deer were killed between October 1, 2013 and March 31 this year, an increase of about 125 from last year’s total.

The numbers and cautionary advice are from Deer and Tick Committee Chairman Mike Scheibel.

Councilman Ed Brown, Town Board liaison to the committee, wanted to know if this information means that steady increases like that over the next couple of years will mean Shelter Island is winning its battle to control a booming deer population and related tick infestation.

Not necessarily, Mr. Scheibel said. But it demonstrates the Island, which opted not to use federal sharpshooters in favor of recreational hunters, is showing progress that deserves to be noted.

While repeating his opinion that recreational hunting won’t ultimately be enough to control the deer population, he called the recreational hunters “the true managers of deer,” adding, “We need them and rely on them.”

Still, Marc Wein, a recent addition to the committee, is skeptical. Mr. Wein wants more precise data on how many deer populate Shelter Island. And there, Mr. Scheibel offered some hope, reporting that he has some preliminary information from Dr. Paul Curtis, a wildlife specialist in the Department of Natural Resources at Cornell University, about a camera system that could be employed to track the deer.

The cameras would cost about $300 apiece and would best be deployed in areas where the town’s 4-poster units are located.

This would avoid getting a separate New York State Department of Environmental Conservation baiting permit. It would take about a week for the cameras to be in place, Mr. Scheibel said. Data would be downloaded daily and then it would take at least a month to interpret the information that would provide an indication of the Island’s deer population.

Dr. Scott Campbell, a committee member and Suffolk County Department of Health Services lab director, suggested using science students from Shelter Island School to help with the camera deployment and gathering of data.

There have been 32 4-posters deployed throughout the Island and six more at Mashomack Preserve.

This is the largest number of 4-posters deployed on Shelter Island since the end of the test effort sponsored by Cornell Cooperative Extension and Cornell University, the state, county and town between 2008 and 2010. There were 60 units on the Island during those years.

By day’s end Tuesday, it was expected that the units would be filled with corn and rollers that rub against deer necks while they feed, coated with the tickicide permethrin. Mr. Scheibel said he expected the Mashomack 4-posters would be viable by early next week.

Nick Ryan, a Highway Department employee charged with maintaining the units, said that while he’s working alone on the units outside of Mashomack, he envisions needing help as the season continues. His full-time job is affected by his responsibilities to maintain the 4-posters.

“It’s a little challenging physically,” Mr. Ryan said.

That brought up the subject of money.

“Our funds are drying up in town,” Councilman Brown told the committee. The town’s efforts this year come to $90,000, and it will be necessary for Suffolk County and New York State to start providing funding, he said.

Dr. Campbell said that though a report on the issue is due from the county by October, it was likely there will be an extension.

“It’s important to do it right, rather than to do it fast,” Dr. Campbell said.

Mr. Scheibel noted that the state has allocated $500,000 to the problem statewide, but added he doesn’t know how much of that money will reach Shelter Island.