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Shelter Island Deer & Tick Committee seeks vision

JULIE LANE PHOTO Deer & Tick Committee member Jim Colligan wants to control the flow of information by finding a volunteer to handle public relations so ideas don’t get out before they’re thoroughly vetted.
Deer & Tick Committee member Jim Colligan wants to control the flow of information by finding a volunteer to handle public relations so ideas don’t get out before they’re thoroughly vetted.

You can’t sell an idea to residents before your own vision is clear. That’s the conclusion the Deer & Tick Committee reached on Wednesday as members admitted they need a definitive vote to determine exactly what path they should be pursuing.

No one disputes that the aim is to reduce the tick population on Shelter Island to combat the incidence of Lyme and other tick-borne diseases. And members generally agree that culling the deer herd is a significant part of the solution. But that’s where agreements end.

Multiple questions have been posed:

Can the town significantly cull the herd exclusively by recreational and nuisance hunting so there are no more than 8 to 10 deer per square mile ?

How effective might sharpshooters such as those employed in Southold through a United States Department of Agriculture program this year be on the more densely populated Shelter Island?

How effective are 4-posters and how many would be needed here to spread enough permethrin on deer necks to kill ticks? .

What the committee needs is a vote on a proposal that it can then put forward to the community as its plan to takeon the problem. The aim at the August 6 meeting will be to adopt such a policy statement, according to chairman Mike Scheibel.

Mr. Scheibel promised to circulate a proposal to committee members in advance of that meeting

What’s clear is that several committee members, Mr. Scheibel included, think the only way to sufficiently cull the herd is to hire sharpshooters. But they also believe the community has no appetite for doing that. And the only East End community to embrace the USDA sharpshooters this year was Southold, where no numbers have been released on effectiveness. Mr. Scheibel said he heard the cull in that town wasn’t very effective.

Steve Lenox argued that when Shelter Island participated in the Cornell University-Cornell Cooperative Extension 4-poster program and deployed 60 units, it effectively reduced the tick infestation. But ticks have increased since the town had fewer than 20 units deployed during the last two years. Returning to 60 units is a major part of the solution, he said.

That didn’t sit well with Marc Wein who argued that the Cornell study showed the effectiveness of 4-posters only within 300 to 400 yards of the unit. At that rate, the number of units that would be needed throughout Shelter Island would be astronomical, he said.

Councilman Ed Brown, liaison to the committee, said even if some funding were forthcoming from the state or Suffolk County, it wouldn’t be steady.

“We need long-term funding,” he said.

Jim Colligan told his colleagues that based on what he has heard from the Shelter Island Association, everyone favors culling the herd but few back the 4-poster program. They have no confidence that the units are effective and see their use as very expensive. Culling the herd should dominate the town’s effort, with a lesser concentration on 4-posters, he said.

People have the wrong conception about sharpshooters, Mr. Colligan said. They see it as the town turning its back on local hunters, he said.

“We are not here to eradicate deer,” but to cull the herd to reasonable numbers, he said.

At the same time, he suggested the committee look for a retiree who might volunteer to handle public relations for the committee to get the right messages out to residents. Such a person could advise the committee on how to get its messages out effectively and not prematurely.

He pointed to a time when committee members discussed hiring a professional to manage the deer and tick effort, but said because that was publicized in the Reporter before the idea could be thoroughly vetted by the committee, it got knocked down before it could be analyzed.

But Chief Jim Read reminded Mr. Colligan that committee meetings are public and covered regularly by the newspaper, so there would be no way to control the flow of information.

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