One Town Board member raised concerns about efforts to reduce the deer herd on Shelter Island becoming “indiscriminate slaughter.”
Councilman Paul Shepherd spoke angrily at times after a report by Police Chief Jim Read and Mike Scheibel, chairman of the Deer & Tick Committee, to the board at its work session Tuesday.
Mr. Shepherd said he was “worried about the obsession with the numbers we kill … I don’t want to pee all over [the committee’s] operation because they’ve done a good job,” but “when the time comes I’ll do what I have to do on the other side of this thing.”
This followed a report by Chief Read, who has spearheaded the deer management program on the Island, on the numbers of animals taken this past hunting season.
Countering Mr. Shepherd’s concerns, Mr. Scheibel, who is also Mashomack’s natural resources manager, said, “I assure you, as a professional wildlife biologist, that we are in no danger of extirpating that species. It will not happen.”
The statistics presented by Chief Read show a dramatic increase in the number of deer killed during the last hunting season on town-owned or-managed properties over last year. From October 31, 2015 through March 31, 482 deer were reported killed on Shelter Island. During the hunting season last year, 370 animals were reported killed.
Chief Read said “reported” is an important term, since although the town keeps records of kills on town properties and Mashomack, hunters on private properties may not report deer kills to the new York State Department of Conservation, which they’re required to do.
Beau Payne, the newly appointed animal control officer, who will run the deer and tick management program for the town, said at the meeting that he’s heard that up to 50 percent of all deer kills go unreported. Someone close to the town’s program, speaking off the record, said that number might be too high.
Since 2012, when the town reported 240 deer killed, the number has risen steadily and 2015 had the most reported kills since 2006.
Chief Read emphasized the need for private property owners, who would like to have licensed, trained hunters manage deer on their land, to contact the town. Mr. Payne will work with them to coordinate their schedules for hunting.
Chief Read said the question of whether the deer population has been reduced might be answered by looking at the number of motor vehicle accidents last year involving deer. Prefacing his remarks by saying it was an unscientific conclusion, nevertheless, 2015 saw 21 vehicles striking deer , the lowest number in eight years. From a high of 74 in 2000, the number has “plateaued,”Chief Read said, with accidents never getting higher than 39 over the last several years.
Mr. Scheibel said studies of ground vegetation that deer feed on at Mashomack have also indicated that the deer population has been reduced. “We’re working in the right direction,” Mr. Scheibel said.
But it’s an uphill battle, he added, noting that “estimates are you have to remove 40 to 50 percent of the deer population every year to stay level.”
Marc Wein, a member of the Deer & Tick Committee, said that the amount of corn deployed in 4-poster units —feeding stands that brush deer with a tickicide, permethrin — has doubled since the program stated in 2008, and may indicate there are more deer.
Mr. Payne said he was just beginning to analyze corn consumption and when he has collected data may be able to predict “long-term trends.”
Chief Read noted several times that the committee was an advisory group taking direction from the Town Board, and its brief is to reduce the deer population.
“Who do you hear from?” Mr. Shepherd demanded.
“Everyone on this board,” the chief responded.
“What does she say?” Mr. Shepherd asked, indicating Councilwoman Chris Lewis. “Nothing. [Councilwoman] Mary Dudley said nothing. So who are you hearing from … A pair of Jims?” He was referring to Supervisor Jim Dougherty and Councilman Jim Colligan, the liaisons from the board to the committee.
Councilwoman Lewis said she has “sat in this chair longer than anyone else,” and has been involved with the question of managing the deer and tick populations “from the beginning.”
Mr. Dougherty said he had as well, beginning in 2008 “when we launched a two-prong approach of culling and the 4-posters.”