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Deer & Tick Committee on the hunt for reliable trends

JULIE LANE PHOTO Animal Control Officer Beau Payne encourages Deer & Tick Committee members not to draw conclusions from early data on deer culls. Listening to him is committee member Dr. James Bevilacqua.
JULIE LANE PHOTO Animal Control Officer Beau Payne encourages Deer & Tick Committee members not to draw conclusions from early data on deer culls. Listening to him is committee member Dr. James Bevilacqua.

Numbers don’t lie — but do they tell the truth?

Members of the town’s Deer & Tick Committee believe tracking trends are important, but have only a single year of reliable numerical data on deer culls and other relevant information to guide their effort to decrease tick-borne diseases.

For that reason, committee members are opting to be cautious about releasing numbers they fear may lead to false conclusions.

At their March 1 meeting, members discussed changes they’ve seen this year from what little information they had in the past.

The number of deer taken in February on the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) “deer damage” permit — the special permit lasts though the end of the month — is the same for this February as it was last year. Deer damage hunting helps communities overrun with deer by allowing special licenses issued by the  DEC to hunt outside the regular hunting seasons.

The number of deer killed might be the same, but the number of hunters participating in the extended hunt has increased.

Does that mean that the effort to provide more incentives to hunters to participate in the longer hunting season is a failure? Maybe, maybe not, they conclude.

“It could be construed as a good thing,” Animal Control Officer Beau Payne said. But one year’s difference does not make a trend, he said. Other factors also may have been at work, Mr. Payne said.

• This has been a relatively mild winter, bringing out more hunters who may have previously abandoned hunting with the arrival of typical winter weather.
• There may be fewer deer on the Island, but no one here or in other communities seeking a way to count deer has come up with a reliable method.
• Hunters are allowed to use shotguns and bows and arrows, but not crossbows and that may discourage some hunters from participating unless there’s a change in the law. There are bills pending in both houses of the state legislature that could affect that ban, Mr. Payne said.

He has been on the job just under a year and said this year’s data will provide a base point for comparing future years and the varying factors that enter into those comparisons.

The town may have reached a point where it’s hit a plateau in terms of the number of deer that can be culled from the herd in a season, Police Chief Jim Read said. If future numbers show that to be the case, new strategies may have to be developed for increasing the cull, he said.

“Snapshots of data “ can be “misconstrued,” the chief cautioned.

That’s something Councilman Jim Colligan, liaison to the committee, hopes the Town Board might address. Before being elected to the board, Mr. Colligan was a member of the Deer & Tick Committee.

He said he will encourage his colleagues to provide more feedback to the committee in the future.

One number the committee was willing to release is an estimate of the amount of venison that has been provided by hunters in the town freezer at the Recycling Center. Since the hunting season began October 1, 900 pounds of meet have been made available from between 85 to 90 deer.

Anyone wanting the meat can take it free. Mr. Payne said the freezer has been regularly emptied by residents. He’s hoping, he said, that through contributions, grants and town allocations, the committee can purchase a mobile hanger where hunters could bring unbutchered deer.

Committee member Dr. James Bevilacqua said he thought such a hangar would encourage more hunters since they wouldn’t have to be concerned with having to get the deer they take butchered immediately. Such a freezer container could hold up to 25 carcasses at a time, Mr. Payne said.

On another matter, the committee opted to delay further investigation of an MIT study dealing with changing the DNA of white-footed mice that would then not be able to serve as conduits for ticks that spread Lyme disease.

Dr. Kevin Estvelt last week offered to meet with committee members to explore adding Shelter Island to studies under way on Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.

Member Scott Campbell, who is laboratory director for the Suffolk County Department of Health Services, advised to wait and see where the MIT study goes, and others agreed.

“It’s interesting science, but it has a long way to go,” Dr. Campbell said.