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Experts: Deer culling on Shelter Island is critical

JULIE LANE PHOTO Deer & Tick Committee Chairman Mike Scheibel informed the Town Board how the committee wants to allocated funds for 2016.
JULIE LANE PHOTO | Deer & Tick Committee Chairman Mike Scheibel informed the Town Board how the committee wants to allocate funds for 2016.

With an enhanced focus on culling Shelter Island’s herd, the Deer & Tick Committee is looking into hiring Connecticut-based White  Buffalo, a nonprofit considered a leader in controlling white-tailed deer populations.

Anthony DeNicola, who heads the group, would train two local hunters in White Buffalo methods at a cost of about $1,500 per day for a two-day course.

The fees could be split with another area town planning to use White Buffalo, he said. Deer & Tick Committee Chairman Mike Scheibel would seek contributions, perhaps from local neighborhood associations, to offset the cost since training would take place this fall and town money wouldn’t be available until January.

Member Jim Colligan offered to bring up the idea at a Shelter Island Association meeting, typically attended by representatives of the associations.

White Buffalo hunters use cross bows and bait during the nuisance deer hunting season, which is February 1 to the end of March.

On the other front in the battle against tick infestiation, the state is expected to come through with another $100,000 to fund the 4-poster units — feeding stands that brush deer with a tickicide.

Supervisor Jim Dougherty has released statistics provided by Cornell Cooperative Extension entomologist Dan Gilrein and local officials showing a major decrease in ticks from 2008 to this year.

Their statistics are based on drags using a small flag that is swept through areas to count the numbers of ticks that latch onto the cloth.

In 2008, the sweeps collected 400 ticks; this year that number had dropped to 50.

There have been fluctuations in the drag statistics, but Mr. Dougherty pointed to the reduced numbers as proof of the effectiveness of the 4-posters.

Members of the committee met with Suffolk County Public Works Department Division of Vector Control entomologists Ilia Rochlin and Moses Cucura last week to discuss tick infestation. The two Vector Control experts told the committee last week if the Island is going to reduce ticks, it must reduce the number of deer.

To break the cycle of tick proliferation, the town would have to bring numbers down numbers to somewhere between 12 to 20 deer per square mile.

There’s no solid estimate of the number of deer on the Island, but based on a decrease in incidences of tick-borne diseases, damage to vegetation, sighting of the animals and motor vehicle collision statistics, it seems the Island’s deer population is considerably more than the optimum.

When committee member Hank Amann insisted that lowering the deer population would result in ticks choosing mice as hosts, the experts strongly rebuffed the theory, explaining that only larval deer ticks, not adult deer ticks, feed on mice.

If you reduce the deer population, you reduce Lyme disease, Mr. Curcura said. But he urged the ongoing use of 4-posters, at least until the town had clear evidence its culling efforts had succeeded.

Besides considering White Buffalo as a tool for culling the herd, the committee, with expected budget approval, is planning to step up a lottery for hunters who receive incentives for taking deer. They receive entries into a lottery for each deer killed.

The committee spent $8,000 in the current year for incentives; that part of the 2016 budget is expected to be increased to $25,000.