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Burning explored for tick control

REPORTER FILE PHOTO

REPORTER FILE PHOTO

To burn or not to burn, that is the question with which Deer & Tick Committee members have been wrangling.Among the tools many Islanders have been wondering about in the battle against the ticks is whether they might be eradicated through controlled burns.

The immediate answer as of the October 3 committee meeting is burning might be one tool, but not by any means the only method of dealing with the tick population on the Island. But a lot more research has to be done into the effectiveness, practicality and requirements for burns.

So put those matches away until you know a lot more, according to Animal Control Officer Beau Payne.

To arrive at an  answer about effectiveness, the committee is considering selecting a single site that could be divided with burns being done on one side and no burns on the other to compare the results through tick drags.

But there are provisions that the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation puts on burning, including how it is handled and by whom. The town has a volunteer fire department and while a trained firefighter isn’t necessary to every burn, someone who knows what they’re doing is. Here, it’s considered impossible to conduct widespread burning overseen by already over-burdened firefighters, committee Chairman James Bevilacqua said.

Permits would have to be obtained for whatever burning the town might undertake and there are strict regulations about how the burns could be done, he said. There would also be budget implications to any major burning program, Dr. Bevilacqua said.

““We can’t be afraid to say this doesn’t work,” he said, noting that he doesn’t see it as replacing 4-poster unit use.

As for individual property owners conducting burns, they too must meet state regulations and Councilman Jim Colligan, who has handled such a burn, warned that it should never be conducted by one person alone. Wind shifts and other factors can have an impact on safety, he said. The fire department would also have to be informed of the plan even if a trained firefighter isn’t directly involved.

Burning is a tool still used in some southern states, but available information provides no direct correlation between circumstances there and those on the Island. Even Mashomack Preserve, where burning has been used to control grasslands, there’s no information directly applicable to the efficacy of using the method in tick control, according to committee member and Mashomack Preserve Director Jeremy Samuelson said.

One thing the committee knows from experiences of those who have used burning as a means of tick control is that it must be repeated every year or two to keep the ticks from reemerging.

Committee member Scott Campbell said he thought removing vegetation using mechanical equipment Public Works Commissioner Jay Card Jr. is seeking would likely be a more efficient means of battling ticks than burning.

“It’s a better bang for the buck to go mechanical,” said Mr. Colligan. He’s a Town Board liaison to the committee.

On another issue important to the committee’s effort to step up its deer culling, Mr. Payne said that he doesn’t yet know how many Nuisance Wildlife Control Officers (NWCO) he might have for the Deer Damage Permit period in February and March of 2019.

The committee was hoping to step up the NWCO shoot that took 50 deer this year, but additional hunters are hesitant to sign up because of an estimated $625 cost of insurance they would need.

The committee wants to explore ways to offset that cost to encourage more hunters to participate.

What committee members don’t want to do is have to hire outside hunters — whether regionally or from companies that deal in culling herds — to do the job they hope they can award local hunters for tackling.

The NWCO hunt is certain to be a topic for the Deer & Tick Committee November meeting.

Saving money by spending is name of the game for the committee that thanks to private donor Tim Hogue and the Town Board have agreed to put forth money for a refrigeration unit hunters can use to hang their deer for a few days until they can get the carcasses butchered.

It’s all a matter of timing.

This year, the town leased a refrigeration unit parked at the Manhanset Firehouse on Cobbetts Lane. Mr. Payne credited its presence with encouraging hunters to take down more deer.

But as a lease, at the end of the nuisance hunt last spring, the town had to pay for the unit to be taken back off Island and then brought back again in time for the recreational hunting period that began October 1.

By buying the unit outright this year with half the approximate $30,000 cost, the town saves money in transportation costs and doesn’t have to budget in the 2019 spending plan for leasing it again. The unit now belongs to the town and is expected to have a life expectancy of about seven to 10 years before it might need refrigeration parts repaired or replaced, Mr. Payne said.

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