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Signs point to a decreasing deer herd

Shelter Island’s Animal Control Officer Beau Payne.

“It looks like we’re going in the right direction,” Animal Control Officer Beau Payne told the Deer & Tick Committee at its June 5 meeting, speaking about reducing the deer herd on Shelter Island.

But he cautioned committee members not to assume that the efforts in place will reduce the herd to about 50 deer per square mile by the end of the 2022 hunting season.

Officer Payne said he’s careful about drawing firm conclusions based on limited data. Even if his current numbers are correct, he added, 50 deer per square mile is still far from what experts recommend — eight to 10 deer per square mile.

“It’s a static model of a dynamic situation,” Officer Payne said, explaining that what looks promising at this moment can change with unforeseen circumstances.

Mashomack Preserve Director Jeremy Samuelson, who is a committee member, also offered words of caution to his colleagues, telling them the temptation to reduce the situation to more and more numbers won’t necessarily provide “valuable and relevant” information.

Noting the volume of data Officer Payne is currently tracking, Mr. Samuelson said to ask him to track even more data is unlikely to be the most productive use of the officer’s time.

What cost $134,000 to fund several efforts in 2016 is estimated to be at $173,516 when the numbers are tallied for the current year.

Most of the money supports the use of 4-poster units, feeding stands that brush deer with a tickicide, permethrin. Committee Chairman James Bevilacqua said, when the committee works out its next budget, it will look at all expenditures and might stop the use of the units and direct much more money to culling the herd.

If that happens, Dr. Bevilacqua said, it will be important to decide whether discontinuing use of the 4-posters could have an adverse effect on reducing the cases of tick-borne illnesses. If so, it would be necessary to reinvest in the units, he said.

By a vote of 6-0, with member Marc Wein abstaining, the committee adopted a Deer Management Plan, which will guide the committee in making recommendations to the Town Board for its annual operational plan. Mr. Wein has been a strong advocate for abandoning use of 4-posters, maintaining they are expensive, ineffective and the money could be better used to further cull the deer herd.

The management plan will provide direction and overall goals for dealing with the Island’s deer problem.

The first plan is concerned with, among several things, mitigating the risk of contracting tick-borne illnesses; reducing the ecological damage occurring on the Island; and reducing deer-vehicle collisions. It outlines methods of herd reduction, from culling the herd, sterilization, fertility control and moving deer to other areas.

The full Deer Management Plan will be posted on the Deer & Tick Committee’s website.