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Year in Review: Jury still out on Island’s battle against ticks


Has Shelter Island made advances to lessen tick-borne diseases by controlling tick infestations?

That depends on who you ask and how data is interpreted.

But there’s one area of general agreement among town officials, including members of the Deer & Tick Committee: Hiring Beau Payne as animal control officer has been a positive move.

The town is currently looking at two disparate views of how money should be spent when it comes to tackling the ongoing tick problem.

While the committee embraces a three-pronged approach— use of 4-poster units; culling the deer herd; and public education about the problem — the way in which money has been spent in the past year and is allocated for 2017 heavily favors use of 4-posters — feeding stands that brush deer with a tickicide, permethrin.

In budgeting for 2016, the intent was to spend $20,000 to increase culling the herd. But by August, it was revealed that only $3,600 had gone to incentives to get hunters into the field.

Police Chief Jim Read, Committee Chairman Mike Scheibel and Mr. Payne agree that more culling needs to take place, but insist they haven’t seen a plan for spending more that will encourage additional hunters to take more deer each year.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation allows the town to use a system in which hunters are credited with lottery tickets for each deer taken.

Tickets are raffled regularly and winners get gift certificates for sports equipment. Prizes during recreational season continue to be awarded at the rate of one $100 gift card for every two entrants, drawn biweekly. Once a hunter’s name is drawn in a 1st place drawing, he or she is excluded from the remainder of the 1st place drawings in that period.

New this year is the addition of a single, second prize drawing of a $50 gift card to be awarded to any of the entrants in that period. While there may be several $100 winners in a period, the maximum an individual hunter can win in one drawing period is $150 worth of gift cards and there could only be one individual to receive that amount. Each entrant has a chance to win either $0, $50, $100, or $150.

The drawings held during “deer damage permit” season will be increased this year from $100 to $200 at the same rate and frequency as above, with a second place prize of $100 awarded the same way as above.

The DEC prohibits a direct reward to hunters for shooting deer.

Supervisor Jim Dougherty, often says Shelter Island is a leader in controlling the deer and tick population, remaining a strong advocate of 4-poster use, publicly criticizing suggestions that permethrin might be ineffective and unsafe.

Mr. Dougherty complained this year about the town getting only $25,000 instead of $100,000 from New York State for 4-posters, saying that the cut resulted because of criticisms of the units voiced at meetings and carried by the Reporter’s coverage of those sessions.

Committee member Marc Wein, once a strong proponent of 4-posters who raised money to fund them, has led the drive to concentrate more on culling. He has called for a study of the long-range safety and effectiveness of permethrin, but neither the county nor the state has stepped forward to fund such a study and the town doesn’t have the money.

Mr. Wein has also released figures he said point to an increase in the deer population on the Island that are being well fed by the corn used to attract them to the units.

With about half the number of 4-posters deployed now than the 60 units used during the Cornell University-Cornell Cooperative Extension pilot program between 2008 and 2010, there’s a 100 percent increase in the use of corn. With 36 units deployed this year, 356,000 pounds of corn were used. In 2008, when 60 units were deployed, 170,000 pounds of corn was used.

Mr. Wein denounced suggestions that other animals were eating the corn, saying that those same types of animals were eating the corn in 2008 and their numbers don’t seem to account for the vast increase in corn use.

Tick numbers have not diminished in recent counts, Mr. Wein said, asking why they’re continuing to be tallied in similar numbers to past years if the units are so effective.

“Are we actually running a wildlife feeding and propagation program rather than a tick eradication effort?” he asked.

Dr. Scott Campbell, a member of the committee and director of the Suffolk County Department of Health Services Laboratory, repeated in August what he has said on a number of occasions: There’s a definite correlation between culling and the number of ticks in the area.

Mr. Payne warns that there is not enough data to draw any conclusions and says it will take a few years before he can suggest changes in the town’s effort to deal with what it has identified as a major health problem here.

At Mashomack Preserve, where Mr. Scheibel is natural resources manager, there has been an increase in deer taken and that may coordinate with lower numbers on tick counts there. But the chairman agreed it was too early to draw conclusions from his numbers as well.

Numbers Mr. Payne provided in early December on recent tick counts and corn consumption, were to be shared with Dan Gilrein, Cornell Cooperative Extension entomologist, and Mr. Wein asked that his numbers also be shared with Mr. Gilrein, who is expected to be a member of the recently re-constituted Suffolk County Tick Control Advisory Committee on which Mr. Dougherty sits.

That hasn’t yet happened as Mr. Gilrein wasn’t at the recent county meeting.

While a lot of eyes might be on Shelter Island as officials continue to explore ways of dealing with tick-borne diseases, going forward, locals can be expected to be watching a few numbers:
• The cost of the program to try to lessen tick infestations
• The numbers of ticks being detected through tick drags
• The rise or decline of tick-borne diseases.
As for the educational arm of the town’s program, there is a new Deer & Tick website established early in 2016, but Mr. Wein maintains it has gotten few hits since it was launched.