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Deer & Tick Committee Committee seeks testing of venison

REPORTER FILE PHOTO Deer feeding at a 4-poster unit.
REPORTER FILE PHOTO Deer feeding at a 4-poster unit.

The hunt continues for someone to test venison that has been exposed to the tickicide permethrin.

Testing has been done in other parts of the country where permethrin was used on 4-poster units — feeding stands that brush deer with the chemical — as it is here, but the Island may be the one community in the nation that has employed it for the most longest period of time.

At issue is the long-term safety of the meat taken from the deer and also if the tickicide is still effective or the ticks have developed an immunity to it.

The last testing was done during the Cornell University-Cornell Cooperative Extension pilot program that took place at venues including Shelter Island beginning in 2008.

Animal Control Officer Beau Payne told the Deer & Tick Committee at its May 2 meeting that Cornell has indicated it can’t do a follow up study since the New York State Department of Health has said it’s not equipped for such a study.

But there is a possibility the State Department of Environmental Conservation might be willing to undertake testing, Mr. Payne said.

While most of the committee welcomed the possibility of testing, Dr. James Bevilacqua worried that if testing showed any residual presence of permethrin — even if it caused no threat to consumers of the venison — it might discourage hunters from continuing to cull the herd.

“We could be shooting ourselves in the foot,” Dr. Bevilacqua said about release of any test results.

In years past, a few hunters said that they continued to hunt, but wouldn’t eat the meat. But those concerns appear to have quieted down in the past couple of years, Mr. Payne said.

Nonetheless, he stressed the importance of information for those eating the meat and those butchering the deer.

Mr. Payne stressed that if testing showed a slight residual contamination of the meat from exposure to permethrin, in making results known he would be able to make comparisons with other meat products that bear slight contamination but are sold in markets without health concerns.

Dr. Bevilacqua then said he’s not opposed to testing, but is concerned with how the results will be disseminated.

The Deer & Tick Committee efforts are focused on public health resulting from tick bites that can produce multiple diseases, Mr. Payne said. “We owe it to the public to make sure there is no issue,” he added.

If testing resulted in any “undesirable outcomes,” it might be important for the town to examine its approach to dealing with tick infestations, he said.

Mr. Payne noted that he has deployed 31 4-poster units throughout the town and another six are in operation at Mashomack Preserve. Currently he is servicing the 31 units with corn once a week and a permethrin solution on the rollers that rub deer necks while they feed. The servicing is expected to increase to twice a week during the summer months.

On another front, a report compiled by Moses Cucura of the Suffolk County Public Works Department Division of Vector Control has concluded that those seeking to avoid use of chemical pesticides like permethrin in favor of natural substances are not getting the protection they think they are, according to committee member Marc Wein. He said the natural substances are failing to make lawns where they are used safe from ticks.

Mr. Cucura’s presentation came at the Suffolk County Tick Control Advisory Committee, Mr. Wein said. The Reporter has reached out to the Public Works Department to request a copy of the report.

“Natural sounds nice,” Mr. Wein added, but people aren’t getting the protection they think they’re getting by opting to use them. At the same time, he warned that permethrin should not be applied directly to the skin in any proportion.

While committee member Henry Amann made his usual plea to focus attention ton rodents that also carry ticks, he had left the meeting by the time Mr. Payne outlined a five-year study launched in Dutchess County using two commercially available products aimed at ticks on rodents.

The committee is putting the finishing touches on a public forum to be held at the school auditorium on June 28 at 6:30 p.m. with speakers to include Mr. Payne, committee member and chairman of the county’s Tick Control Advisory Committee Dr. Scott Campbell and Susan Booth-Binczik, head of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Deer Management operation.