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County unlikely to fund tick eradication efforts

JULIE LANE PHOTO Health Department Lab Director Dr. Scott Campbell warns his colleagues on the Shelter Island Deer & Tick Committee not to expect monetary support from Suffolk County in its efforts to eradicate disease-carrying ticks.

JULIE LANE PHOTO
Health Department Lab Director Dr. Scott Campbell warned  his colleagues on the Shelter Island Deer & Tick Committee not to expect monetary support from Suffolk County in its efforts to eradicate disease-carrying ticks.

Shelter Islanders waiting for Suffolk County to fill coffers with money to tackle tick infestations shouldn’t hold their collective breath.At least that’s the view from Suffolk County Department of Health Lab Director Dr. Scott Campbell.

Whatever advice might come from a new county Tick Control Advisory Committee, no one should expect any kind of county-wide blanket program to attack the problem, Dr. Campbell said. The county just simply doesn’t have the money to undertake the effort, he said.

The committee was appointed in late April and and hasn’t yet met, Dr. Campbell said. But the aim of the new group — which includes Supervisor Jim Dougherty — is to provide direction to the Health Department’s Vector Control unit about creating a plan to deal with tick-borne illnesses.

Until the committee was created by passage of a bill introduced by Legislator Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk), Vector Control concentrated primarily on mosquitoes and the spread of viruses such as West Nile. In pushing to widen the scope to include ticks, Mr. Schneiderman said individuals were 300 times more likely to contract Lyme disease than West Nile virus.

The County Advisory Committee’s initial report is supposed to be available in October, but it’s expected that its work will be ongoing with subsequent reports, Dr. Campbell said.

As for deer management, that’s outside of the county’s purview, Dr. Campbell said, referring issues about culling the deer herd here to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

The town does have a couple of infrared cameras that have been set up at various 4-poster stations to provide an indication of what’s happening.

What the pictures are revealing is that during the day, it’s raccoons, not deer, feeding at the stations. The deer apparently are intimidated by the raccoons and keep their distance. But raccoons don’t feed at night and that’s when the deer are observed at the 4-posters.

That prompted committee member Marc Wein to inquire about shutting down the stations during the day, but there was no answer about whether there might be a way to close down the units during the day and reopen them at night when raccoons apparently don’t feed.

The only response was that the raccoons don’t depend on the corn for much of their diet, so they aren’t consuming much. With 38 units — six at Mashomack Preserve and the remainder scattered throughout the Island — it would certainly be labor intensive if the units could be opened and closed.

Committee chairman Mike Scheibel, who is natural resources manager at Mashomack Preserve, told his colleagues he’s averaging 200 pounds of corn at each unit weekly while Nick Ryan, who does the job for the town’s units, said he’s averaging between 150 to 200 pounds of corn per unit refilling them  twice a week. There are a handful of the town units where he’s only having to fill twice a week with 100 pounds of corn twice a week, he said.

Both men reported there are no surprises about how the units are functioning this year. But Mr. Ryan said it took longer for the program this spring to take off, not because the units weren’t up and ready, but to get the deer accustomed to using the 4-posters. He thinks that may be the result of the prolonged winter.

Another issue at the June 4 meeting was when it might be wise to poll the community about attitudes toward ongoing efforts to try to lessen the tick infestation.

Some thought a survey would be useful now in revealing areas where residents needed more education about the science of the programs being undertaken. Others feared that too much misinformation is circulating in the community that could result in people rejecting ongoing and expensive efforts.

That debate will go back to the Town Board that first suggested a questionnaire. But Deer & Tick Committee members would like to weigh in with ideas for what questions should be on a questionnaire. There has been a recent poll by the Reporter and two neighborhood association polls in Hay Beach and Silver Beach, all of which basically supported ongoing expenditures to tackle the problem.

j.lane@sireporter.com