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Supervisor Dougherty optimistic about state money to battle ticks

REPORTER FILE PHOTO A deer brushing against a permetrin soaked post as it feeds at a 4-poster unit. State funds could be on the way to maintain the program.
A deer brushing against a permethrin-soaked post as it feeds at a 4-poster unit. State funds could be on the way to maintain the program.

Supervisor Jim Dougherty has informed the Town Board there could be state money flowing to the town for the battle against tick-borne diseases.

Greg Blower, an aide to State Senator Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), told the supervisor that Mr. LaValle has requested $100,000 in state money for Shelter Island. At the same time, they discussed working with Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor), who has made the same request in the Assembly. Mr. Dougherty said that could be a tougher go, with 150 members competing for funding.

Mr. Thiele told the Reporter Friday he believes that with requests for funds coming from both houses, the chances of passage are improved.

It will most likely be sometime in April, when the state budget is being addressed, that the legislators will have a better idea about the progress of the funding bills, Mr. Thiele said.

While expressing optimism that the town will see state money, Mr. Dougherty told his colleagues: “Don’t spend the money just yet.”

The state has twice come through with $100,000 for the town to use to keep the 4-poster program — feeding stands that brush deer with a tickicide, permethrin — operating. But last year, the town received a $25,000 grant, not the $100,000 it had previously received, which forced allocation of more town money to the 4-poster program.

Mr. Dougherty attributed the cut in funds to the debate here about the efficacy of the units. Mr. Dougherty has been a consistent backer of the use of 4-posters as have most members of the town’s Deer & Tick Committee.

But there have also been calls for an updated study on the safety of using permethrin, and whether it remains effective over the long term.

The town has used the units since becoming part of a three-year pilot program launched in 2008 by Cornell University and Cornell Cooperative Extension. When the program ended, the town continued using the units, but cut back from the 60 units the study deployed to 20 units it could afford. It has increased to 37 in the past year, including six paid for by Mashomack Preserve.

Some have argued that 60 units was more than needed, and judging from tick drags — a method of counting ticks in a particular area — and incidences of tick-borne diseases that increased after the Cornell study, some have maintained that 20 units was too few.

Animal Control Officer Beau Payne, who has been compiling information for the committee on several fronts of the issue for the past year, has said it will take him a few years of tracking numbers before he can draw conclusions.

Both those involved in the decision-making on the Island and experts from other areas continue to encourage the Island’s three-pronged approach of using 4-posters, culling the deer herd and educating the public.

At issue is how much money is optimum for each effort.

The committee is willing to spend more money on culling the herd, but continues to search for ways to offer more incentives to hunters to increase their participation.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) prohibits a bounty that directly rewards hunters for killing deer, but allows the Island to run a lottery system that provides an entry to a hunter for each deer he or she takes. Winners receive gift certificates to sporting goods stores.

The town could pay those with Nuisance Wildlife Control Operators’ (NWCO) licenses to cull the herd, Mr. Payne said. These licenses, issued by the DEC “authorizes an individual to take/trap, transport and release wildlife whenever the animal becomes a nuisance, destroys property or threatens public safety,” according to the state agency.

But with no appetite on the Island for professional sharpshooters, only those locals with NWCO licenses could be directly paid, he said.

“Paying local licensed NWCO’s a per diem or per deer rate may be more palatable than hiring off-Island sharpshooters and would likely cost significantly less,” Mr. Payne said.

But he warned the town would likely run out of money before it could reach the desired deer density.

That’s generally acknowledged to be about eight deer per square mile.

While no one has a number of how many deer are on Shelter Island, at a recent Deer & Tick Committee meeting, Mr. Payne said he thought culling in the past year likely kept the deer population from expanding, but didn’t lessen deer numbers.

One action being discussed that could be an incentive to local hunters would be a dedicated butchering location. Improved freezer capacity at the Recycling Center would also be a step in the right direction. But new refrigeration units start at about $25,000, Mr. Payne said. Associated utilities and equipment would add to that cost, he said.

“The availability of reliable cold storage has been listed among the reasons our recreational hunters do not take more deer during the warmer parts of the season,” the animal control officer said in an email to Mr. Dougherty.