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Deer & Tick Committee readies new website

JIM COLLIGAN PHOTO | Deer in Silver Beach.

JIM COLLIGAN PHOTO | Deer in Silver Beach.

Finishing touches are being put on a Shelter Island Deer & Tick Committee website to go live within the next week or two.

In the past, anyone seeking information about tick infestation responsible for spreading diseases here or what’s being done to cull the deer herd, could only access information from the Shelter Island Police Department’s website.

But the Deer & Tick Committee determined that many residents don’t think to seek information there and opted for a separate site with the hope of a better flow of information.

Committee member and artist Jackie Black has led the effort to build the new website and said she’s nearly ready to pull the trigger for public access.

Meanwhile, the Deer & Tick Committee is prepping for its first meeting of 2016 on Wednesday, February 10. A controversial subject — the efficacy of 4-poster units — is expected to be front and center on the agenda, according to Councilman Jim Colligan, a long-time committee member before his election to the Town Board.

Shelter Island was a major test site during the 2008-11 Cornell Cooperative Extension-Cornell University program to determine the effectiveness of the 4-posters — feeding stands that brush deer with the tickicide permethrin.

Original test results showed a decrease in the presence of ticks when 60 units were deployed around the Island over the three year period. But once the program ended and the town took over maintaining the units, the number of 4-posters were cut back, with the town citing cost considerations. The result was an increase in ticks.

Gradually, helped by grants from New York State to offset the cost of their maintenance, the town, increased the number of units to 38.

But in the past year, Marc Wein, a member of the Deer & Tick Committee and an early proponent of 4-posters for which he helped to raise funds, began questioning their use. Those contributors he had secured were having doubts about the ongoing expense and the cost of corn used to attract the deer to the feeding stands.

Mr. Wein said he feared there would be no end to the escalating costs. He further questioned their effectiveness at more than a few yards from each unit and, more recently, raised a question about the long-term safety of permethrin.

With some residents spraying their properties with permethrin, a rainstorm right after spraying could wash the tickicide into surrounding waterways, Mr. Wein said. Spraying private properties also results in killing other insects, not just ticks, Mr. Wein said, including bees and other beneficial insects.

His views have been echoed by Cutchogue’s John Rasweiller, a retired medical school professor, who serves on the Suffolk County Tick Control Advisory Committee, the North Fork Deer Management Alliance and Southold’s Deer Management Committee.

Four posters result in feeding not just deer, but other animals, such as raccoons that grow larger because of the availability of corn. They they become tick carriers just as the deer are, Rasweiller said.

He also said efforts at fertility control efforts were too expensive and not approved by the New York State Department of Environmental Control as a means of stand-alone deer management.

“On eastern Long Island, substantial reduction of our deer population can be achieved only by some combination of recreational hunting and humane culling,” he wrote in a Suffolk Times column.

Countering the effectiveness of 4-posters is a New York State report, where  researchers observed that tick levels in 4-poster treatment sites significantly declined compared with the control site from 2008 to 2009, and in most cases from 2008 to 2010.

A number of other studies outside of New York State have shown reductions in tick populations at all stages of development, measuring greater than 90 percent and as much as 100 percent. Results from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Northeast Area-Wide Tick Control Project, which did involve a New York State treatment site, demonstrated the effectiveness of 4-poster technology with efficacies against nymphal blacklegged and lone star ticks ranging from 60.0 to 81.7 and 90.9 to 99.5 percent, respectively.

If committee members and a number of experts who attended Deer & Tick meetings were reluctant to agree with the negative assessment of 4-posters, several have said there should be further studies on the safety and effectiveness of the units.

A number of other communities that have tried using the units have abandoned them and others have resisted using them, Mr. Wein said.

While the town continues to support use of the units, it has also followed the suggestion of Deer & Tick Committee members to step up spending on culling the herd.

Toward that end, the town expects to spend about $50,000 in annual salary for a wildlife manager to help run a deer management program — including deploying and maintaining the 4-posters — but also coordinating the hunts.

Mashomack Preserve reported a major increase in its culling at 160 deer taken in just five days of the January shotgun hunt as compared with 129 during the entire month of January 2015.

Townwide numbers haven’t yet been tallied, according to Jennifer Beresky, who compiles information for the Police Department. But she said early numbers showed 14 deer were taken on town-managed properties in the first few days of the shotgun season. Numbers of deer culled since the hunt began

October 1, 2015, show an increase by 17 over last year’s numbers, Ms. Beresky said.

She noted that Mashomack, which allows off-Island hunters, has a much larger group of shooters. The only off-island hunters allowed outside of Mashomack must be accompanied by Island residents.