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Step up deer culling? Not so fast says animal control officer

JULIE LANE PHOTO Deer & Tick Committee member Craig Wood talked at the May 3 meeting about revising the Island’s brochure to make it more reader-friendly.
JULIE LANE PHOTO Deer & Tick Committee member Craig Wood talked at the May 3 meeting about revising the Island’s brochure to make it more reader-friendly.

Shelter Island’s Deer & Tick Committee members, who held back information on the number of seer on the Island to prevent residents from drawing conclusions from incomplete data, revealed at its May 3 meeting that there may be as many as 1,200 deer here.

Animal Control Officer Beau Payne said his data was calculated at the height of the population cycle when does have given birth increasing the herd. The number of deer he calculated was 101 deer per square mile, not the 10 to 12 deer per square mile considered optimal by most experts.

The number Mr. Payne produced was based on camera data collected using what’s known as “the Jacobsen method” of photographing deer taken near 4-poster units — feeding stands that brush deer with a tickicide, permethrin — around the Island, he said. It compares favorably to density estimated on corn consumption at the units during the same period, he said.

Mr. Payne cautioned committee members not to give too much credence to that one number representing an estimate of the deer population on the Island when more evidence will be collected during the year ahead using several methods to try to pinpoint whether the Island’s deer population is growing, decreasing or maintaining the status quo.

If that number of deer calculated per square mile proves accurate, the committee agreed the culling of deer has to be stepped up to about 750 deer taken per year, but culling needs to be adult does, not young deer since pregnant does clearly increase the herd.

Mr. Payne said 484 deer were taken in the most recent hunting season, just one more than was taken during the previous season. This means an increase in incentives to hunters resulted in spending more money for virtually no added return.

At Mr. Payne’s request, no action will be taken to increase the cull or change the incentive program until firmer numbers are available. The animal control officer estimated he would need two or three years of data to draw reliable conclusions.

Mr. Payne has been on the job for a year and said some data is available from before he started, but some of that is sketchy, and some information wasn’t tracked at all until he began his job.

Making changes without more data “is foolish at best,” Mr. Payne said.

He and committee member Craig Wood agreed to draft a survey of Islanders to determine attitudes about the deer cull. In the past, there has been an assumption that many residents are against culling and particularly don’t favor using United States Department of Agriculture sharpshooters or other professionals to augment local hunters. But there was agreement that a survey would provide information on which to base future decisions.

Just how the survey might be distributed is still undetermined.

Enhancing the third prong
The committee has had a three-pronged approach to its efforts to lessen tick-borne diseases:
• Using 4-poster units
• Culling the deer herd
• Educating the public about tick-borne diseases

But the committee agreed that despite a new website at shelterislanddeerandtick.org and distribution of a pamphlet, more needs to be done, to alert people about how to protect themselves from tick-borne diseases and understand methods underway to battle the problem.

Mr. Wood is spearheading the effort with an eye to improving communications with residents and visitors.
The committee wants to concentrate on getting a brochure out that is more colorful and lists bullet points that are likely to gain more readership.

The committee will also consider using advertisements and interviews aired on public service Channel 22.

They want to see the brochures distributed in public places such as Mashomack Preserve, North and South ferry offices and at hotels and B&Bs. They also want signage at sites where hikers can be alerted to proper dress to protect themselves from tick bites and people can be alerted to check themselves and their children to ensure they haven’t been bitten.