The Deer & Tick Committee has declared the pilot Nuisance Wildlife Control Officers (NWCO) program a success and it’s expected to be expanded in 2019.
The program uses specially licensed local hunters who are paid for their efforts based on the number of deer they butcher.
There were three local hunters who were licensed under the program conducted during February and March, the period the DEC designates as a “nuisance hunt.” Nuisance hunting helps communities overrun with deer by allowing special licenses, also known as deer damage permits, issued by the New York State Department of Conservation. Some communities in the state conduct a longer nuisance hunt, continuing beyond the end of March, but Shelter Island officials have opted not to, concerned about safety of visitors who begin to flock here as the weather turns warm.
Animal Control Officer Beau Payne said 46 deer were taken as a result of the NWCO program by the three hunters, six more than the Deer & Tick Committee had hoped would be killed. Of those deer killed, 28 were adult females; eight were female fawns; six were male fawns; and four were adult males.
The emphasis has been on taking adult females to keep them from reproducing.
The town budget allocated $10,000 for the NWCO program and Mr. Payne said he exceeded that by $150.
“Overall, it was a success,” Mr. Payne said, noting that all those deer were donated to the town program that makes venison available to residents. A refrigeration unit is at the Town Recycling Center with butchered meat still available. Mr. Payne estimated that there would be venison there at least until the end of April.
Based on the numbers, Deer & Tick Committee Chairman Mike Scheibel said it’s time to consider the implications as work begins on the 2019 budget. He would like to see the NWCO program expanded next year.
“I think this is a path to the future,” committee member Marc Wein said, noting the success of the pilot program should result in a full program in 2019. He thanked Mr. Payne for developing and administering the program and said he would want to see more money allocated to NWCO and other efforts to cull the herd.
Mr. Payne there are two more hunters who have expressed interest in getting licensed as NWCO hunters; one is enrolled in an online program to gain a license.
There were 136 deer taken during the February-March nuisance hunt, including the 46 taken by NWCO hunters, Mr. Payne said.
Town hunters between October 1, 2017 and March 31, 2018, took a total of 544 from the herd.
During the regular hunting season, the town operates a lottery system for gift certificates to sporting goods store. The town spent $4,050 in 13 raffles and a grand prize for hunters taking more than 20 deer from town-managed properties.
Some of the hunters see the gift certificates as an incentive, Mr. Payne said. Others are indifferent and still others were unaware of the lottery system, but pleased and surprised if they won, he said.
He reported that last year, there were 37 hunters in the program hunting on town-managed properties, an increase of six from the 2017-18 period. Mr. Payne said those who hunted in the 2017-18 period seemed more motivated than in the past.
At Mashomack Preserve, 137 deer were taken between October 1 and January 31, as compared with 143 for the same period the previous year. Mr. Payne said 24 deer were taken at the Preserve during the nuisance hunt, down from 50 last year and 45 the year before. But he said he expects a nuisance hunt will start up again at Mashomack in September.
One of the factors that may have been an incentive for hunters this year has been a cooler positioned at the Manhansett Firehouse where hunters could hang the deer they killed and not have to leave them outdoors where they might freeze or be ruined.
The town leased the cooler this year and plans to do the same during the 2018-19 hunt, but Mr. Payne will also be looking at the possibility of the town purchasing a second-hand cooler. He noted that 152 deer were checked in at the locker during the hunting season.
Most were ultimately butchered with more than 2,600 pounds of venison donated to the town program.
SEARCH FOR NEW MEMBER
Mr. Scheibel, who is retiring from Mashomack Preserve as its natural resources manager, will be leaving the Deer & Tick Committee after its May 2 meeting. The Town Board will most likely appoint one of the current committee members as chairman leaving an open seat to be filled.
Anyone interested in serving should contact a Town Board member or a member of the committee.
Mr. Colligan said losing Mr. Scheibel as well as Dr. William Zitek awhile ago from the committee meant losing “two giants.”