10/21/11 1:00pm

JIM COLLIGAN PHOTO | A deer feeding at 4-poster station.

The Town Board would like to boost the 4-poster deer tick program so that it has the best results, said Councilwoman Christine Lewis at at a budget planning session last Thursday. But she told Patricia Shillingburg, chair of the Deer and Tick Committee, that there was a caveat: the board could not do everything it would like to do.

“I’m sure we’re going to be cutting this week and next,” she said, referring to the 2012 budget plan.

“Shelter Island needs to be deer tick free,” Mrs. Shillingburg said. The current $68,000 budget line for 2012 is far too low, she said, “if we want to keep the Island safe.” She urged the town to approve either $300,000 for 60 4-poster units in the “North” and “South” areas every other year or $150,000 for 30 units every year — in the north in 2012 and the south in 2013. The $150,000 would include $40,600 for corn and $98,800 for maintenance.

She told the board that raising funds privately to fund the program was not a possibility, in part because the Deer and Tick Management Foundation’s position is that “maintaining health and welfare of the community is the government’s role.”

Ms. Shillingburg said, “Every person I’ve approached, even to lift an envelope, has said no” to requests for donations. Those who made donations for the town’s 2008-2010 state-sanctioned 4-poster study, under which 60 units were deployed townwide, had told her that controlling deer ticks was a health issue, she said.

She explained later in a phone interview, “I approached the Deer and Tick Management Foundation about the need to raise $150,000.” When she “started rounding up a team,” she found out that those who gave before believe the 2011 study is a proven study. “When it was an experiment, and it was a charitable event,” she said, “they were willing to go into their pockets.” But now they say it should be a public expense.

Councilman Glenn Waddington, who is running for town supervisor, said he thought hunters would prefer having 60 4-posters in the field in 2012 and none in 2013, a plan that would allow them to hunt without any 4-posters anywhere in the down year. Supervisor Jim Dougherty, who is running for re-election, said, “We’re all learning this thing … It looks like the 4-posters work.” But “we’re broke, so we have to compromise.” He thanked Ms. Shillingburg for five years of hard work through the tick study and the first year of the town’s 15-unit program.

“We’ve proven we can do what we have to do,” Ms. Shillingburg said. “I know it’s tough, Glenn,” she said, finding the funding.

“Doing something is better than doing nothing,” Ms. Lewis said of Ms. Shillingburg’s assertion that a 15-unit 4-poster program would not kill enough ticks to keep the population suppressed.

Richard Kelly, a member of the audience who has questioned the 4-poster program, said that the data on which a 2011 final report on the 4-poster study was based — the report indicates the program was highly effective at killing ticks — should be verified. “You have to have three independent labs test it,” he said. He and Ms. Shillingburg argued about whether the budget meeting was the proper forum for a criticism of the 2011 report.

Ms. Lewis raised the issue of the pending decision from New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation. The 2011 report was to have been the deciding factor in a DEC decision to authorize the use of the chemical permethrin in 4-posters statewide. Mr. Dougherty said approval was forthcoming. “They’ll say yes,” he said.

10/13/11 11:10pm

JIM COLLIGAN PHOTO | Deer feed at a 4-poster station.

The Town Board should budget for a $150,000-a-year 4-poster program that would put 30 units in the field covering half the Island in alternating years, the town Deer and Tick Committee has recommended.

The town budgeted $68,000 this year to put 15 4-posters in the field under a special state permit, down from the $77,000 budgeted during the last year of a three-year study that put 60 units in the field and was funded with help from county and private sources.

The committee’s chair, Patricia Shillingburg, appeared before the Town Board last month to make the case that the 4-poster study effectively eradicated ticks from Shelter Island and should be continued at a level that would continue to suppress the tick population as a matter of public health.

“The county, the town and hundreds of individual contributors — in three years — have spent over $2 million to eradicate the ticks on Shelter Island,” she told the board on September 13. Joining her was entomologist Daniel Gilrein of Suffolk County’s Cornell Cooperative Extension, who presented a summary of the Cooperative Extension’s highly detailed final report on the three-year 4-poster study, which the extension ran under a special permit issued by the state Department of Environmental Conservation only after years of debate and controversy.

The 4-poster device is not approved for use in New York State and the key purpose of the study was to allow the DEC to decide whether or not to change its rules.

Paul Curtis, a wildlife specialist at Cornell University, assisted in the experiment and took part in the September 13 Town Board presentation by speaker phone.

The 4-poster units are so-named because each of two feed bins filled with corn is framed by four posts holding rollers soaked with a solution of the chemical permethrin. The chemical is transferred to the deer’s neck and ears when they lean into the bins to eat. Permethrin is the same chemical used in public health mosquito abatement programs, indoor and outdoor residential sites and on pets and clothing, according to NPIC, the National Pesticide Information Center.

Mr. Gilrein noted that permethrin was found in coat swabs of deer in 36 out of 39 cases, demonstrating that the 4-poster program did work in coating deer with a tick-killing agent. Deer are the prime host of ticks, which congregate on their heads, neck and ears. Mr. Gilrein said decreases in tick population “were relatively greater in areas where 4-posters were used, and 4-posters appear to have had a significant impact” on the Island’s overall tick population.

Mr. Gilrein presented data showing that 4-posters increased indirect contacts among deer “but not direct contacts,” which he said countered a theory that the 4-poster system could cause the spread of disease — one of the reasons the state forbids feeding or “baiting” deer.

The chemical did not impact deer population growth or reproductive success and the 4-poster program did not increase deer-vehicle collisions, according to the final report, Mr. Gilrein said.

The next step for the Town Board is to decide how many 4-poster units to maintain in the field. In the 2008-2010 study, 60 4-poster units were installed to cover the “Area B/North” and “Area A/South” sections of the Island.

At last month’s meeting, Ms. Shillingburg handed out a sheet titled “Deer and Tick Committee Report,” in which the committee proposes the installation of 30 units, costing $5,000 each to maintain and operate, for a total cost of $150,000 a year. In the report, the committee recommends covering the “North” section in 2012 and the “South” section in 2013.

“You may contemplate covering only one quarter of the Island as you did last year,” Ms. Shillingburg said, referring to the 15 units. “This decision, however, is not based on science and, the committee believes, will be self-defeating in the end” because it would allow the tick population to recover.

Ms. Shillingburg warned the board of the dangers of complacency: “The last option is, of course, to do nothing and move on, recognizing that within five years, the Island will have returned to the state where our citizens and our economy are in jeopardy from tick-borne diseases,” she said. “The committee is well aware that it is presenting you with a moral dilemma. There is little money in the till but the physical health of the community and its economic viability are at stake so there is really only one right thing to do.”

“I’d like to see it done,” a man in the audience said at last month’s meeting. “My wife was diagnosed with Lyme again this year … I can’t believe the casual attitude on the part of some” toward tick-borne illness, he said.

Although the presentation was on the topic of tick eradication, questions about the numbers of deer on the Island and the impact of 4-poster placement on hunting were raised by Councilman Glenn Waddington, who is running for town supervisor. He surmised that the deer population is increasing on Shelter Island.

“I don’t exactly want the deer to do fine,” he said.

Mr. Curtis warned that the deer population had to be reduced to 15 per square mile to have a 4-poster program work properly and warned of using a “hodgepodge” approach to their deployment. Installing “15 or 20 and moving them around,” he said, “may not accomplish the goal. I would go for more complete coverage.”

Mr. Waddington said there was an outcry from hunters when the “North” 4-poster study area was closed and again when the “South” was off limits. He said the town should be “ramping up our culling of the deer” but “we couldn’t do that during the study. We didn’t want to skew the results.”

Police Chief James Read objected to Mr. Waddington’s assertion that the town’s special-permit deer-hunt program was falling short because the number of deer taken had been declining. He said there was a natural leveling off of the deer harvest over the years because the hunt had been successful in reducing the herd so it had become harder to bag a deer.

Mr. Gilrein addressed concerns about deer meat being safe to eat after deer had been exposed to 4-posters. Of 20 Shelter Island deer tested, none had the chemical in their  livers and none out of 23 had it in their hindquarter muscles. Six out of 39 deer tested positive for the chemical in their neck muscles. Permethrin was also found on the coats of deer in North Haven, the control area, where 4-posters were not installed. Ten of 15 deer sampled had positive detections of the chemical in coat swabs. Many residents on North Haven have their yards sprayed with a permethrin solution to control ticks, as do an estimated 400 homeowners on Shelter Island.

Vegetation destruction around 4-posters was also measured. Mr. Gilrein said there was some impact on some areas at some distances but that “damage is so high already, it’s very hard to tease out. There is a great deal of deer damage. That was obvious before the study began.”

Town Supervisor Jim Dougherty asked Mr. Gilrein if New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation was going to allow the use of permethrin in 4-posters in the future. “The DEC has not made a registration opinion yet,” Mr. Gilrein said.

The town’s continuing 15-unit program is allowed under a special permit issued by the DEC to the town.

08/27/11 4:00am

REPORTER FILE PHOTO | An adult female black-legged tick. Sometimes referred to as a deer tick, this species can transmit Lyme disease.

This is the first installment of a two-part account of a forum on tick-borne illnesses in Sag Harbor last week. Part two will appear next week.

Bitten by a tick as a child during a summer stay in Bridgehampton, Ally Hilfiger began experiencing full-blown flu-like symptoms and joint pain by age seven. Over the next 11 years, she was diagnosed by different doctors with diseases ranging from arthritis to fibromyalgia and multiple sclerosis.

“I spent a lot of my life in what is called the Lyme Fog,” Ms. Hilfiger told an audience of 100 people attending a forum on Lyme and other tick-borne diseases in Sag Harbor last Friday. “Nothing helped with the pain or the disorientation.”

At age 19, she saw a psychologist in Connecticut who said “this sounds like Lyme.” Earlier blood tests for Lyme, she recalled, had been “marginal or inconclusive.” With this diagnosis, however, “which included a co-infection” with babesiosis, she embarked upon a seven-year regime of antibiotics and IV drips.

She has been symptom-free for the past year. “I believe I went through this so I can stand before you and spread this message,” she said. “You must be an advocate for this disease. You must also know that tests can be wrong and doctors can make mistakes. You know your body and when things aren’t right you need to trust your instincts.”

The forum, “Lyme Disease in the Hamptons — What You Need to Know,” was presented by Time For Lyme, Inc. on August 19 at Bay Street Theater. Four panelists provided detailed information on the disease, including updates on the latest research, common misconceptions, prevention strategies and a personal story of mis-diagnosis.

Time for Lyme is a non-profit organization based in Greenwich, Connecticut, the mission of which is to fund and promote outreach for Lyme and other tick-borne diseases. According to co-founder Diane Blanchard, the group is dedicated to increasing awareness of the diseases through education and prevention programs.

The purpose of Friday’s program, Ms. Blanchard told the audience, was “to introduce you to some very important resources right here in your own community.”

The panelists included George P. Dempsey, M.D., a family practioner in East Hampton who has been studying Lyme among his East End patients since 2000; Darin G. Wiggins, M.D., chairman of the Department of Emergency Medicine, Southampton Hospital; Benjamin J. Luft, M.D., an academic physician, researcher and chairman of the Department of Medicine at Stony Brook State University,  who is involved in research on the disease; and Ms. Hilfiger, the Time for Lyme spokesperson who told of her long struggle with the disease. The panel was moderated by Dr. Luft.

“My goal is to make Lyme disease manageable for those who live out here,” said Dr. Dempsey. While Lyme was first diagnosed in 1975 in Lyme, Connecticut, Dr. Dempsey said that records show that a Dr. John Walker wrote about Lyme-like symptoms on an island off the coast of Scotland in 1764. And Pliny the Elder, who lived between 23-79 A.D., wrote “Ticks: the foulest and nastiest creatures that be.”

CO-INFECTIONS COMMON

There are now some 10 tick-borne diseases that have been identified and at least 32 percent of infected ticks carry more than one pathogen, making co-infections like Ms. Hilfiger’s very common, Dr. Dempsey said. Spring is the most active time for nymphs and is the time, he said, “when we see the most disease.” Nymphs tend to be down low, in leaf mulch and other warm, moist areas. Adult ticks, on the other hand, are capable of jumping and are often found in high grass or on animal trails. “They have a highly developed sense of smell and wait for an animal, such as a deer, to come by and then jump on it.” In general, ticks do not like dry environments, windy settings, beaches, rocks and pebbles, which is a good list of landscaping “do’s” that will help minimize the tick population on a property.

Through his highly graphic slides, Dr. Dempsey sought to reassure the audience that “not every insect bite is a tick bite and not every tick bite carries disease.”

A tick bite rash usually doesn’t hurt, it is not that itchy, the area tends to be warm and the bite site gets progressively larger. “If the rash lasts more than two or three days and is larger than a silver dollar, then it could be a tick,” he said. While the bull’s eye rash is believed to be the hallmark of Lyme, Dr. Dempsey was quick to point out with slides that there is a wide range of rash-like manifestations.

05/18/11 10:22pm

CARRIE ANN SALVI | 4-poster in Sachem’s Woods.

At least some of this year’s 15 tick-killing feeding stations known as 4-posters were put in place on Friday, May 13. The devices were placed by town highway and Cornell Cooperative Extension personnel in locations that have been used in the past. They include South Ferry, Silver Beach, Sachem’s Woods, Goat Hill, the firehouses and several private tracts. The areas were chosen due to their dense deer and tick populations.

Also assisting in the installation was Jennifer Zacha, a clerk at the Shelter Island Police Department and Premier Pest Control.

According to Patricia Shillingburg, chair of the town’s Deer and Tick Committee, “We have pretty much killed the ticks on Shelter Island wherever the 4-posters have been placed.” She based her assertion on tick counts that were performed after the first three full years of the deployment of the devices.

The devices, which the town began using experimentally under a special state permit four years ago, have four posts on which paint rollers soaked in permethrin are installed. Deer feed on corn in containers located between the rollers, treating their ears and necks with the pesticide as they eat. Ticks concentrate in the ear and neck area of deer, which are their primary host, according to scientists who invented the 4-poster for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

There has been some concern that, because of permitting and other delays, the 4-posters were not installed early enough in the season this year to be effective. Ideally, they should be installed before or during the period of highest tick activity. That can be as early as March for deer ticks and mid-April for lone star ticks. Entomologist Dan Gilrein of Cornell Cooperative Extension, wh is managing the program, said the timing won’t undermine the ongoing effort to reduce the Island’s tick population. “It is an ongoing process,” he said, “with improving results every year, and even if a few [ticks] are missed, the program will still be highly beneficial. It just adds to the leakage”.

The 4-posters were installed later than usual because of the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC)’s permit requirements, the bidding of vendors for the feed required to attract the deer, and details involved in organizing the setup and care of the devices, Mr. Gilrein said. He gave the DEC credit for issuing the permit quickly after the town’s original three-year permit expired, but added there had been details such as site location and getting permissions from property owners.

Financed by the town, and with responsibilities being taken on by the town’s Highway Department, as well as assistance by the Police Department and Deer and Tick Committee, the town’s partnership with the Cooperative Extension is working well, Mr. Gilrein said. Aside from the effectiveness of the 4-poster, tick populations have been trending down beyond Shelter Island. “There has been a general population decline in North Haven and other areas of the East End,” he said, where the 4-posters have not been installed, “but the decline is even more significant on Shelter Island.”