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Deer & Tick survey may be on again

JULIE LANE PHOTO Animal Control Officer Beau Payne (second from right) told committee member Marc Wein (left) he wouldn’t release original emails he received containing comments on the proposed Deer & Tick survey without a Freedom of Information request. Also pictured are committee member Dr. James Bevilacqua and committee secretary Amanda Gutiw.
JULIE LANE PHOTO Animal Control Officer Beau Payne (second from right) told committee member Marc Wein (left) he wouldn’t release original emails he received containing comments on the proposed Deer & Tick survey without a Freedom of Information request. Also pictured are committee member Dr. James Bevilacqua and committee secretary Amanda Gutiw.

There will be some quick steps this week to try to rescue a survey of public opinion on how the Deer & Tick Committee members should be proceeding with efforts to tackle tick-borne diseases.

What emerged from Wednesday morning’s Deer & Tick Committee meeting is that Police Chief Jim Read and Animal Control Officer Beau Payne will buck any attempt to send out a survey that contains numbers pertaining to spending on the three phases of the committee’s initiative — education, deployment and maintenance of 4-poster units — feeding stands that brush deer with a tickicide, permethrin — and culling the deer herd.

That’s in line with Supervisor Jim Dougherty’s objection to the survey draft that members originally expected to distribute in early July. Mr. Dougherty said the survey was weighted against 4-posters and he stopped its distribution.

He’s away from Shelter Island on vacation now, but voiced his objections to Deputy Supervisor Chris Lewis and Councilman Jim Colligan, both of whom were at Wednesday morning’s meeting.

Ms. Lewis said she would call for a vote of the Town Board at next Tuesday’s work session on a survey that is to be revised by Mr. Payne this week.

The agreed upon plan was  for Mr. Payne to revise the survey that Mr. Dougherty and Chief Read found objectionable in part, incorporating comments from the two officials and those of  committee members by Wednesday evening and then distribute it to the committee for an emailed vote by Thursday night.

Chief Read said his concerns were the length of the original survey, the inclusion of budget numbers and some statements that he thought directed respondents to respond in a specific way.

The revised survey went to committee members Wednesday evening with an email from Mr. Payne saying that if members approved the changes and it was acceptable to committee Chairman Mike Scheibel, it could then be forwarded to the Town Board for its action.

Ms. Lewis said if she receives the revised survey by Friday, she will distribute it to the full Town Board for a vote at Tuesday’s work session.

Committee member Marc Wein argued for including the current budget figure of $127,000 that is allocated for the current fiscal year in the survey, but that would not pass muster with the Chief Read or Mr. Payne.

Ms. Lewis said she would be willing to include percentages of overall spending that show 77 percent of the budget being used for 4-poster units; 16 percent for deer management; and 7 percent for public education. But she, too, said she wouldn’t include the budget number in line with Mr. Dougherty’s wishes.

With the Town Board vote scheduled while Mr. Dougherty is still away, it remains to be seen how his colleagues will vote on a revised survey.

Mr. Wein asked if Mr. Payne would send out the raw responses he received from Mr. Dougherty, Chief Read and committee members that would guide the animal control officer in revising the survey, but Mr. Payne refused.

He said he wasn’t comfortable sharing emails that people had sent him with no expectation they would be sent out to the entire committee. But he told Mr. Wein he could file a Freedom of Information request for them.

The purpose of the survey, Councilman Jim Colligan later told his Town Board colleagues, is to guide budgeting for the next fiscal year as well as give committee members direction on how residents want them to move forward.

There have been mixed opinions on the committee about whether spending on culling the herd should be increased.

Both Mr. Scheibel and Mr. Colligan said they never saw 4-posters as an ongoing solution, although they see it as a piece of the effort at this stage.

Mr. Colligan said it was one tool in trying to curb the incidence of ticks on the Island but that there were many questions still unanswered about its long-term use.

Mr. Scheibel echoed that sentiment.

Mr. Wein shared a study issued in 2012 by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) reviewing the final report filed by the Cornell University – Cornell Cooperative Extension pilot project using 4-posters on Shelter Island and Fire Island sites.

That report noted that the New York State Department of Health had raised concerns about the use of  permethrin  possibly posing problems for children and pets. It recommended fencing around 4-poster stations that were less than 300 feet from homes, playgrounds, apartments and other areas where children might be unsupervised.

While the DEC evaluation wasn’t definitive, it suggested permethrin may not effectively cut down on tick populations.

Still the DEC concluded that use of 4-posters with permethrin “should not pose unreasonable risks to the public or workers” if correctly used. Mr. Payne had to be trained and licensed to apply permethrin to the units.

On the other hand, the Health Deparment’s Division of Fish, Wildlife & Marine Resources continued to oppose the use of permethrin.

While acknowledging public and political pressure for limited use of 4-posters, it said permethrin could have “unacceptable impacts” on the native wild deer population in the state.

The Bureau of Habitat and Bureau of Wildlife weighed in saying it had “serious reservations about the registration of the 4-poster tickicide product and the use of the device in New York State.” Its concerns related primarily to feeding of deer at the 4-poster stations, according to the report.

“We’re playing with a potential health emergency,” Mr. Wein said, explaining why he thinks the survey is so important. He was once a proponent of 4-posters, helping to raise money for their deployment. But in the past couple of years, he has been the most vocal proponent of abandoning their use in favor of spending more to cull the herd.

Mr. Colligan said the committee needs to stop focusing on cutting the deer population to 10 per square mile and instead work to reduce what appears to be more than 100 deer per square mile down to about 50.

Then it can examine whether that’s sufficient or further steps are needed to reduce the herd, perhaps down to about 25 per square mile.

“We’re not looking to do away with deer,” Mr. Colligan said. “We work in increments here.”

As for distribution of the committee’s budget, Ms. Lewis summed up her understanding: “People want you to do things. They don’t want you to spend money to do it.”

She advised the committee to take survey results when they get them to guide their decisions about how to spend money rather than to include numbers in the survey.

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