Shelter Island’s Deer & Tick Committee is primed to take a look at what’s working and what’s not in its effort to reduce tick-borne diseases.
There are reasons to question, some members say, the use of 4-poster units — feeding stands that brush deer with a tickicide, permethrin — and the effectiveness of money allocated to try to increase the number of deer culled.
After months of campaigning against the ongoing deployment of 4-poster units, member Marc Wein has finally won over his colleagues to agree that there needs to be a study of the efficacy of their continued use.
At its February 10 meeting, the committee concurred that grant money must be found to answer a number of questions, including:
• Is the use of the permethrin effectively killing ticks after what has been an almost 10-year effort?
• Is a water-based permethrin sprayed on private property draining into the aquifer and running off in waterways, posing dangers to water quality?
• What animals are eating the corn meant to attract deer whose necks get rubbed with oil-based permethrin as they feed?
• Are deer diets changing, so is corn in 4-posters the most effective food to lure them?
• If 4-posters are safe and effective, how many are needed to have a major effect on tick-borne diseases on the Island?
“It’s criminal that they did their survey and nobody knows what’s happening,” Mr. Wein said. He was referring to the 2008 to 2010 Cornell University and Cornell Cooperative Extension program that first brought the 4-posters to Shelter Island. There has been no follow up studies since, he said.
Both Committee Chairman Mike Scheibel and Councilman Jim Colligan, the Town Board’s liaison to the committee, agreed.
“The follow-up study on Shelter Island needs to be done,” Mr. Colligan said, adding that he will ask the town’s grant writer to look into sources of money for a study of the long-term effects of the units.
Because the Island was among the first municipalities to enter into the program and has subsequently received state money to continue to deploy and maintain the units, other communities have looked to it for advice about how to act on tick-borne diseases.
“It’s going to take serious money” for a credible study, Mr. Wein said. “But it’s an urgent requirement that not only affects Shelter Island but our neighbors. I think we should demand [funds for a study] at the county and state levels.”
Committee member Dr. Scott Campbell, who is lab director of the Suffolk County Department of Health Services, is travelling and couldn’t be reached, but said recently that the 4-posters are safe and effective.
Last June, Cornell Cooperative Extension entomologist Dan Gilrein, told the committee that he was “neutral” and not promoting 4-poster use. But each community makes its own decision about how to spend its money in the fight against tick-borne diseases, he added, and there are communities that find them effective.
The decision to increase spending this year to cull the herd during the regular and nuisance hunting seasons have — according to preliminary numbers early numbers — indicated a flat result.
The committee’s secretary, Jen Beresky, reported that 341 deer have been killed in the period of October 1, 2015, through January 31, 2016. That’s not significantly more than the 333 deer culled during the same period last year. The numbers include the deer killed at the Mashomack Preserve.
Beau Payne, a local hunter, questioned the accuracy of the numbers, noting that fewer than half the deer he’s killed this year were on town-managed properties, suggesting not all deer killed were counted.
Mr. Scheibel said the hunt this year reflected “more or less a stable situation” and efforts to increase incentives for hunters haven’t sufficiently created the progress the committee sought.
Two major efforts were made this year:
• Increasing money to reward effective hunters who were entered into a lottery with the chance of receiving gift certificates for sporting goods.
• Hiring a wildlife manager to coordinate much of the work that’s has been done by Police Chief Jim Read, Ms. Beresky and Public Works Department employee Nick Ryan.
In the latter case, the hiring is still anticipated, but delayed since it must meet Civil Service requirements. It’s possible much of that process could be worked out by March — too late to affect this year’s hunt.
One important aspect of the job would be to hunt deer during the two month nuisance season when most recreational hunters have stopped hunting.
In terms of increasing the incentives to the recreational hunters, gift cards for sporting goods purchases were doubled to $200. Hunters who bagged deer received an entry into the lottery for each animal taken.
While the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation prohibits a quid pro quo that would pay hunters directly for shooting deer, the lottery system is allowed.
Still, getting hunters to extend their efforts into the nuisance season and beyond is very difficult, according to Mr. Payne.
By late winter, hunters are generally tired and more likely to put their energies into jobs that will pay them for their work.
Once numbers are fully in for the season, the committee will discuss ways to increase the deer cull. Among those could be an approach to the Shelter Island Association and various neighborhood associations to allow a group of five or six hunters to cull deer in various areas.
The town maintains several sites with property owners permission, but more are needed, Chief Read said.
Mr. Colligan, who has been president of the Silver Beach Neighborhood Association and Mr. Wein of the Ram Island Neighborhood Association agreed it’s difficult to get all the neighbors to sign on for such an effort. Nonetheless, both said they would discuss the issue further with Shelter Island Association members who represent the various neighborhood groups.
Among ideas considered, but not yet employed, has been to hire Connecticut-based White Buffalo, a nonprofit considered a leader in controlling white-tailed deer populations, to train the Island’s recreational hunters to be even more effective in their techniques. That could still be tried when the hunt starts again in October.
But off the table, at least for the moment, is hiring U.S. Department of Agriculture sharpshooters to come to the Island. There’s a consensus on the committee that Islanders have no appetite for doing that and Southold’s attempt to use USDA sharpshooters last year failed to produce anticipated results.
Venison, considered a gourmet meat by many, isn’t reaching a lot of people here, either because they’re not aware that the deer meat is being butchered and placed in a freezer at the Town Recycling Center or they don’t believe the condition of the freezer makes for an appetizing way of choosing their meat.
The committee is looking into ways to deal with deer carcasses being dumped at the Town Recycling Center, which look gruesome and emit odors. One possibility could be to limit dumping hours so employees could quickly deal with them. Another might be to have a special receptacle just for the carcasses.
Still a third, according to committee member Jackie Black, would be to explore whether there might be a market for hides and other parts of the deer that would enable the town to make money on what’s currently being thrown away.
The committee might be able to cover the cost of an extra dumpster if that’s a solution, Chief Read suggested. He said he would explore possibilities with Public Works Commissioner Jay Card Jr.