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Deer cull up, but too early to judge hunter incentive program

JULIE LANE PHOTO Deer & Tick Committee member Jim Colligan wants to reach out to the Shelter Island Association and other groups to help fund the deer culling effort.
Deer & Tick Committee member Jim Colligan wants to get in touch with the Shelter Island Association and other groups to help fund the deer culling effort.

Since Shelter Island began its incentive program with hunters in culling deer, numbers for the hunt on town-managed sites that began October 1, 2014, are higher than they were for the same period last year. They’re also higher at Mashomack Preserve.The report came Wednesday morning from Jennifer Beresky about the town-managed hunting sites and from Mike Scheibel about Mashomack’s numbers at the Deer & Tick Committee meeting.

There were 86 deer taken on the town-managed sites, up from 57, and 103 taken at Mashomack. Specific numbers for the same period the previous year at Mashomack were not immediately available, but were lower than this year, Mr. Scheibel said.

Hunter Beau Payne said hunters have responded positively to incentives being offered by the town. At the end of November, 10 hunters received gift cards as a thank you for their past efforts in helping cull the herd and two hunters have received $100 incentives as a result of December raffles in which any hunters who had taken at least two deer were entered.

While encouraged by increasing numbers this year, Police Chief Jim Read said he wants to track numbers to ensure the incentives are resulting in more deer culled.

If if there isn’t an overall increase by the end of the hunting season and the prolonged  so called “nuisance” hunting period that takes place in February and March, there’s still the possibility of bringing in sharpshooters, committee member Jim Colligan said.

Last year, only Southold, among East End towns, used the United Stated Department of Agriculture sharpshooters to what officials in that town said were disappointing results. But they blamed the low numbers on a late start and organized opposition that hindered the sharpshooters.

Mr. Scheibel, who heads the Deer & Tick Committee, said with houses close together on parts of the Island, concerns about shooters not familiar with the town had many worried about safety if sharpshooters were brought in. But the option remains on the table if deer kills don’t increase.

As for tracking numbers of deer, Tom Rawinski, a botanist with the United States Forest Service, who has spent considerable time on Shelter Island, said one method used has been to measure plants the deer typically feed on from year to year to determine if the plant damage is increasing or decreasing. That’s something the committee wants to explore.

Committee member Marc Wein has been a major proponent of getting a handle on the number of deer on the Island and spending more money to cull the herd than is being spent on 4-poster units. The 4-posters get the lion’s share of money under current budgeting.

Although Mr. Wein was absent from Wednesday’s meeting, Mr. Colligan said he thinks Mr. Wein is right on target in calling for concentration on culling the herd, rather than trying to reduce tick infestations with 4-posters.

He said he would carry the message to the Shelter Island Association and hope they and neighborhood associations might contribute funds to culling.

But a suggestion from Dr. Vincent DiGregorio, a committee member, that the town should ignore the state Department of Environmental Conservation ban on paying directly for deer kills met with opposition from Chief Read.

Chief Read said he wasn’t in a position to break the law and hope the state doesn’t notice.

He endorsed a proposal to ask the Town Board to work with neighboring towns to pressure the DEC to change its policy on direct pay for deer kills in light of the problem of tick-borne diseases in this area.

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