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Deer cull program marks successes

While the overall cull of the Island’s deer herd is below last year’s level, those hunting under deer damage permits — special state licenses to hunt out of season — have seen a considerable rise in deer killed.

Animal Control Officer Beau Payne told Deer & Tick Committee members at the March 6 meeting that overall numbers between the recreational hunt — October 1, 2018 through January 31, 2019 — and the deer damage permit hunt in February, were at 448, compared to 488 at the same time last year.

The storage cooler, purchased last year largely with donated funds, was used to store 162 deer carcasses during the hunting season, compared to 120 last year. More than 2,000 pounds of butchered deer meat has been donated to residents from a unit at the Recycling Center, Officer Payne said.

With the aid of grant writer Jennifer Mesiano Higham, Officer Payne has submitted an application that could bring the town $24,000 over a three-year period to improve its food donation program.

The grant would be an 80-20 match with the town allocating 20 percent of the amount if the request is approved.

Earlier concerns about the need to step up deer management culling were lessened when committee member Craig Wood said reports show the goal of reducing the herd to about 50 deer per square mile by 2022 are on track.

Although no one has a firm grasp on how many deer are currently on the Island, Mr. Wood estimated it as 105 per square mile.

Resident Barbara Allen-Leiblein told the committee she thinks there are fewer deer on the Island than what’s being estimated, but with increased construction, those deer are more visible. Ms. Allen-Leiblein also said she doesn’t trust that meat from deer that have been treated with the tickicide permethrin is safe to eat, but committee member Scott Campbell — who is lab director of the Suffolk County Department of Health Services — assured her it is safe.

Various methods used to estimate the herd size are “imperfect,” Officer Payne acknowledged.

Councilman Jim Colligan, Town Board liaison to the committee, said for a long time efforts to reduce the herd were “just treading water.” The public expects more, but doesn’t realize how difficult the task is.
“The committee can’t just snap its fingers and make things happen,” Mr. Colligan said.

At the same time, he said current committee work is “starting to turn the corner.”

The committee walks a fine line between those who would like every deer on the Island killed and others who want no deer shot, said Committee Chairman Dr. James Bevilacqua.

Suffolk County has formed an alliance with 10 municipalities — Shelter Island among them — to share information, tactics and resources on tick-borne illnesses. The other municipalities are Southampton, East Hampton, North Haven, Saltaire, Old Field, Northport, Head-of-the-Harbor, Belle Terre and Asharoken.

County Legislator Bridget Fleming (D-Noyac), who represents Shelter Island, issued a statement that the combined effort would enhance the county’s commitment to battling the diseases, with the aim of providing a region-wide model for effective action.