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Committee: Time to turn pro on deer management

REPORTER FILE PHOTO | To effectively mange the deer population on Shelter Island, there's a call for a full time manager.
REPORTER FILE PHOTO | To effectively mange the deer population on Shelter Island, there’s a call for a full time manager.

In December the town’s re-established Deer and Tick Committee was charged with shaving costs. But the committee’s first recommendation to the Town Board at Tuesday’s work session was to hire a full time director to take charge of what Jim Dougherty called “the deer and tick menace.”

Committee Chairman Mike Scheibel told the board there is $100,000 in the town budget earmarked for deer management and eradication of ticks that bear serious illnesses. But there was some debate about that exact figure.

Councilman Paul Shepherd questioned if there was really a problem. He wondered if the issue had been overstated into “some sort of emergency” and it could simply be a  “perception issue. Have we exaggerated?”

Currently, various responsibilities related to deploying and servicing 4-poster units to reduce disease-carrying ticks and culling the deer herd are carried out by town employees with full time jobs and responsibilities. Police Chief Jim Read and police department employee Jennifer Zacha work on deer management as volunteers Highway Department Nick Ryan has been handling the deployment and servicing of the 4-posters as well as his other department duties.

Besides relieving town employees whose time has been stretched thin, it’s important to hire someone who has some expertise in the field of wildlife biology, Mr. Scheibel said. It’s essential to take a scientific approach to the problem, Mr. Scheibel said, and Chief Read agreed, noting that without solid data, there’s no way of knowing the extent of the problem or ways to solve it.

Mr. Scheibel presented the board with a description of a person who would work two to three days a week maintaining the 4-posters from April through December and two to three days a week plus doing scientific studies on tick populations. Two or three days a week would be devoted to managing the town’s deer reduction program from October to April. This would include bringing new hunters into the program, tracking statistics on deer harvests and researching new management properties for hunting.

The new manager would work with the community on education; draft plans; conduct surveys and analyze impacts of deer density.

Councilwoman Chris Lewis asked if the new manager could be a part-time employee. Mr. Scheibel said there were already four or five people working on the programs and are “really being stretched.” He urged the board to hire a full time manager but added that “any relief is better than none.”

Chief Read said that dealing with what he termed one of the three most important issues facing the town “was exceeding my skill set.”

Councilman Peter Reich suggested the title for the new position should be “wildlife management,” with the idea that if the problem with deer is managed successfully there might be other problems, mentioning turkeys and raccoons.

Mr. Reich also asked for the numbers of hours volunteers had worked and if a vehicle would be required for the new position. In addition, not just salary, but benefits would have to be considered. “The overall impact to the taxpayer has to be considered,” he said.

Councilman Ed Brown suggested there be a ballot referendum on creating the position and Mr. Dougherty said he was open to  floating a bond for the entire deer and tick management program.

“We’ll see how the people feel,” Mr. Dougherty said.