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Debating deer and tick tactics

Should the Deer & Tick Committee stick to its plans for 2019 or make adjustments during the year?

That debate surfaced again at the December 5 meeting following Animal Control Officer Beau Payne’s report on the first two months of the recreational hunting period.

Numbers are down from the last year, with 27 hunters taking 71 deer this year while 33 hunters took 115 deer in the same two months of last year.

What accounts for the differences, besides having fewer hunters reporting their kills, could be a decrease in deer on the Island or weather may have discouraged some hunters from going into the field.

But most likely, members agreed, the drop comes from a decreased acorn crop, since acorns tend to attract the deer to sites and the same basic sites are being hunted this year as last, Mr. Payne said.

“Recreational hunting isn’t going to get us where we have to be,” committee member Craig Wood said.

That began the debate over whether there needs to be an adjustment made in plans to cull the herd, especially if the town has too few hunters who are certified during the February and March “deer damage permit” season.

According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, “Deer Damage Permits may be issued in situations where hunting does not reduce deer populations sufficiently to alleviate the negative impacts of high deer densities.”

Last year, three hunters with Nuisance Wildlife Control Officers (NWCO) licenses participated in the February and March hunt and the committee hopes to have five participating in 2019.

But Mr. Payne warned that not all who are in the process of getting NWCO licenses may finish the process.

If there are fewer NWCO hunters, Mr. Wood suggested that the town should consider NWCO licensed hunters from other towns to increase the effort. “We need to be aggressive,” Mr. Wood said, explaining that he doesn’t think a goal of sharply reducing the herd by 2022 is sufficient. “We need to think outside the box,” Mr. Wood said, about the approach to culling the herd. He called for his colleagues to agree to reexamine results and make changes as data reveals the need rather than do so only annually.

But changing mid-cycle can have the committee jumping from place to place in its approach, chairman Dr. James Bevilacqua said, siding with an annual evaluation.

“We need to do more on the fly,” Councilman Jim Colligan said. He’s the Town Board’s liaison to the committee and a former committee member.

Member Hank Amann expressed concern about the town eventually moving to decrease the use of 4-poster units — feeding stands that brush deer with a tickicide, permethrin — insisting they are effective in combatting tick-borne diseases. Mr. Amann said there’s too little data on tick-borne diseases and what they are costing in treatment and suffering.

Committee member Scott Campbell said those places where 4-posters were discontinued, decisions were based on cost rather than effectiveness. At the same time, he said, the Suffolk County Department of Health Services, where he is laboratory director, is looking at whether there could be cost savings in the frequency of refilling the units with corn. But it will likely take a couple of years before the Health Department has results to release.

When Dr. Bevilacqua asked what changes Mr. Wood suggests, he answered that he would like to see money doubled for recreational hunting awards.

Extending the deer damage period was another suggestion from member Jeremy Samuelson, who noted that at Mashomack Preserve, NWCO hunters are deployed in September and again in February through April.

Other communities extend the NWCO hunt from February through September.

For safety reasons, Shelter Island limits that hunt to February and March.

After much debate, the committee didn’t agree to any changes in its plans.