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All in on tick control: Multi-faceted approach discussed

JULIE LANE PHOTO |  Arguing for a multi-pronged attacks on ticks are Deer & Tick Committee members, from left, Jim Colligan and Dr. Vincent DiGregorio.
Arguing for a multi-pronged attacks on ticks are Deer & Tick Committee members, from left, Jim Colligan and Dr. Vincent DiGregorio.

Shelter Island’s Deer & Tick Committee is close to completing a white paper it hopes will educate the community about tick-borne diseases and what is being done here to combat them.

Committee members generally favor a multi-faceted approach that includes use of 4-posters, culling the herd and educating the public.

“I think things are starting to fall into place,” committee member Jim Colligan said. “It’s a question of give and take,” he added, referring to debate among some members about where to concentrate resources — whether it’s in culling the deer herd or expanding the 4-poster program or both.

But the expected $100,000 coming from New York State for expansion of the 4-poster program — feeding stands that brush deer with a chemical that kills ticks — is in many ways a game changer. The funds give the town the money to expand the 4-poster program while allotting more funds to cull the herd. Of course, that ultimately depends on a decision to be made by the Town Board in budgeting for the next fiscal year.

If it cuts its own contribution to the program — $90,000 in the current year’s budget — that could force the Deer & Tick Committee to make different recommendations.

“I don’t think we’d solve the problem” by scaling back the use of 4-posters, Mr. Colligan said at an August 6 meeting. At the same time, he said the town needs to determine how to step up its program of culling deer.

“We need to be positive,” he said. “If we can put a man on the moon, this is not an insurmountable problem.”

It’s vital to deploy a minimum of 60 4-posters around the Island at least every other year, Committee Chairman Mike Scheibel said. But he repeated his belief that it would ultimately take a sharpshooter program here to sufficiently cull the deer herd to a manageable number. That manageable number has generally been cited as between five and eight deer per square mile.

At the same time, the committee is still awaiting results from Southold Town about its use of United States Department of Agriculture sharpshooters this year. Some members speculated it failed or town officials would have been shouting figures to all who would listen.

Here the thinking is to continue to incentivize local recreational hunters, perhaps allowing licensed hunters from other areas to take deer here.

Police Chief Jim Read said he’s hoping to expand the areas the town controls for hunting. With the state decreasing to 150 feet from 500 feet the distance a hunter must be from houses, the chief was hoping a more effective hunt could occur in the year ahead.

The problem of tick-borne diseases is both a regional and national problem, said Dr. Vincent DiGregorio, a physician and committee member. New studies are being released regularly and Shelter Island needs to monitor them and make changes if evidence reveals other methods are proving effective, he said.

The Audubon Society, which that has long embraced a no hunting policy, is re-evaluating its position in view of the tick crisis, Dr. DiGregorio said. Shelter Island has to be “flexible enough and nimble enough” to change courses as new information emerges about the best ways to deal with the problem, he added.

In response to a question from committee member Marc Wein, Dr.  Scott Campbell, who is lab director at the Suffolk County Department of Health Services and a member of the committee, said when implemented correctly, he believes that 60 units would be effective on Shelter Island.

Mr. Wein questioned if it was the most efficient way of tackling the problem. A one-time advocate of the units, he has been pushing his colleagues to put more funding into culling the deer herd and arguing that an increasing number of communities are either abandoning use of the units or deciding against implementing a program to use them.

But Dr. DiGregorio argued that the most efficient approach would be a combination of 4-poster use and culling the herd.

Dr. Bill Zitek, a retired veterinarian and former member of the Deer & Tick Committee, said the 4-posters are “a very functional method of reducing ticks.” Citing a study by Vincent Palmer, special assistant to the commissioner of the State Department of Environmental Conservation, he said each deer is capable of hosting enough ticks to create 450,000 new larval ticks.

Another number the committee wants to track is patients who have consulted doctors on Shelter Island about tick bites. Dr. DiGregorio said the information should include the number of bites reported, the number of suspected cases of Lyme disease and the number of confirmed cases of the disease.

Long-time Island physician, Dr. Peter Kelt, has told the committee he would be willing to provide such numbers.