Reliable deer counts are a tricky business

Committee member Scott Cambell (right) told the board, “there’s many different ways to do tick counts,” after new member Abigail Field questioned the use of flyovers.

What’s the best way for the town to gather deer population data?That was the focus of the January 14 Deer and Tick Committeemeeting, during which an update on funding efforts was presentedand new member Abigail Field was welcomed.


The committee considered whether it should continue usingflyovers as a means of gathering data on the size of the deerpopulation. Deer count data are also provided by Cornell scientistSusan Walker, which Chairwoman Rae Lapides and Police Chief JimRead said are more reliable than the flyovers. A faulty flyover inFebruary 2009 detected only 131 deer, far fewer than counts on theground. The aerial contractor, VisionAir of Boise, Idaho, did notcharge the town for the $8,000 cost of the survey.

“If you guys are saying the flyover data is not good, asked Ms.Field, “and there are other reliable ways of getting the data, thenwhy is there any talk of doing a flyover? Chief Read said that theflyovers, when done correctly, don’t give an exact count butprovide an index. “They gave us a feel for what was going on, hesaid.

Ms. Lapides suggested a method that involves driving todifferent areas that are known to be frequented by deer andcounting the number of deer seen at each location at differenttimes of the day.

Ms. Lapides read an update from committee member Mike Scheibel,who couldn’t be present at the meeting, stating that 135 deer wereharvested in Mashomack in 2009 – up about 35 percent compared to2008.

Chief Read reported that deer-related car accidents had alsoincreased from 2008, from 23 to 35 in 2009. He commented that thisincrease in deer harvests and car accidents suggests “there may besome more deer around. Ms. Lapides responded, “Either that or somemore fast-driving people.

Committee members emphasized the importance of having anaccurate system of doing deer counts in place by the time the4-poster program is completed and Ms. Walker stops providing theboard with counts. “We have to come up with a system that will workfor us year in and year out, said Ms. Lapides. She also said shewould solicit Mr. Scheibel’s advice on alternate methods of doingdeer counts and that members would discuss those options at thecommittee’s February 17 meeting.

The committee will also decide by February’s meeting whether tocontinue flyovers. If approved, members will consider using adifferent aerial contractor to conduct a flyover in late March.


Ms. Lapides read a report from Cornell scientist Dan Gilrein,which said the 4-poster program had received a $25,000 privatedonation in December but was still looking for an additional$205,000 to satisfy the program’s funding requirements for2010.

The board is in the process of acquiring a grant through SuffolkCounty’s one-quarter percent sales tax Drinking Water ProtectionProgram. The 4-poster program is eligible for this grant because itcould reduce the amount of insecticide broadcast spraying on theIsland.

Ms. Lapides told the board that Jeremy Samuelson of the Groupfor the East End is preparing the grant application for thecommittee. She expects to have a decision by March at theearliest.

Of the 4-poster funding, Town Supervisor Jim Dougherty said:”I’m confident we’re close to solving the financial issues, butthere are still some people who haven’t been persuaded yet, atvarious levels, adding, “That’s all I want to say at this point¦ it’s at a very sensitive juncture.

Ms. Lapides noted the importance of completing the third andfinal year of the 4-poster study on Shelter Island, North Haven andFire Island, since its results will inform state lawmakers’consideration of whether to approve the 4-posters for useelsewhere.

These three small communities “are going to make it or break itfor the rest of the state, she said. “The DEC has a waiting list ofother communities that want to use the 4-posters and are allcounting on Shelter Island to complete the third year [of thestudy] in order to have a chance to use it.

“We’re very serious about our obligations, added Mr. Dougherty,”but we’d like a little help.