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Brain storming a deer management forum

REPORTER FILE PHOTO| Plans are afoot to form a regional forum on deer management.

REPORTER FILE PHOTO| Plans are afoot to form a regional forum on deer management.

Shelter Islanders, you are not alone.

Experts in deer and tick control throughout the Northeast exploring ways of decreasing deer herds to combat tick-borne diseases are now talking about organizing a forum to discuss views.

Copies of emails shared among experts in the areas of deer management and tick control suggest a one- to two-day forum to be held at a central place to discuss what they’re terming “the economics of deer.”

The aim would be “to determine if current policy on deer management is maximizing economic return,” according to Andrew Howard, of Warner, New Hampshire, who has worked closely with Paul Curtis from Cornell University on deer and tick issues.

Mr. Howard’s email to experts throughout New York and New England and as far south as Virginia drew enthusiastic responses from recipients who seek to bring scientific evidence to the forefront in place of emotional rhetoric.

Besides references in the emails to mainland sites where deer and ticks are a problem, there are comments from those who have worked on islands such as Catalina, off California, and Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, with problems similar to Shelter Island’s.

Responding to Mr. Howard’s suggestion, Bill Guenther a Vermont state wildlife official, said he thought it important to include policy makers at a conference because his “biggest frustration is trying to deal with the brutal politics of deer management.”

Deer are “too sacred in Vermont” to get policies in sync with deer population numbers, he added.

“The magnitude of issues associated with deer overabundance is receiving much needed attention from professional wildlife managers throughout the Northeast,” Shelter Island’s Mike Scheibel said. He chairs the town Deer & Tick Committee and has shared the emails with colleagues.

Plans are beginning to emerge for a forum as Mr. Curtis and others embrace the efficacy of the need for professionals from state, federal and private sectors to work together “in addressing these important issues,” Mr. Scheibel said. “The hope and assumption is that proceedings from such a conference will help inform policy and management decisions at the local level.”

Mr. Scheibel has been a proponent of a professional hunt on Shelter Island, believing that recreational hunting alone won’t reduce the herd sufficiently.

At the same time, Deer & Tick Committee member Marc Wein has been calling for a means of counting how many deer there are on the Island. But Bernd Blossey, Cornell University professor in the school’s Department of Natural Resources, said deer numbers “do not tell us anything about deer effects that we really care about.”

He has developed a way to measure deer impacts he thinks is more significant and promised to share his methodology once all the details are worked out.

In Maine, the Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife has authority to organize special hunts without legislative approval, said Shawn Haskell, Research & Assessment Section supervisor, calling that “a luxury/necessity” many other states don’t give departments. It’s critical to have state agencies empowered to execute wildlife conservation legal mandates, he said.

“Just letting hunters do their thing in a non-organized way with little coordination effort is not the way to go about it,” Mr. Blossey said.

There’s a need for a workshop “to review what we know, to formulate new approaches and education for all involved in deer management,” he said.

“We are still quick to offer hunting as a solution without clearly assessing how it needs to be managed to be successful,” said Anthony DeNicola of Connecticut-based White Buffalo, a leading nonprofit company in deer management.

Thomas Rawinski of the United States Forest Service praised Mr. DeNicola as being “a gift to all of us” who benefit from his “experience, wisdom and unfailing commitment to Nature conservation and to hunting.”

Mr. Rawinski said changing times call for “new models of hunting.

“Put me in a tree stand above a pile of corn with my shotgun or bow and I can assure a landowner that all my shots will be directed safely toward the ground and that I will be five times more successful in removing deer than a hunter running amuck in the woods,” Mr. Rawinski said.