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Deer meat is available for those in need; Animal Control Officer says 650 pounds reserved

The town’s Deer Management Program has become a resource for food for Island residents, including those residents “who are, or may become, food insecure,” Animal Control Officer Beau Payne said, reporting to the Deer & Tick Committee at April’s meeting. The meeting was streamed live on the internet.

With unemployment hitting the Island hard, as in other communities, the free venison program instituted by the town has helped families make ends meet. The program provides for deer taken to be butchered and the meat made available free of charge at a refrigerated unit at the Recycling Center.

At the beginning of the month there were 242 deer stored in the unit, with 37 stored for personal use. More than 3,500 pounds of deer meat overall has been donated through the program.

Officer Payne said the town has notified the food pantry at the Presbyterian Church, the nutrition program at the Senior Center and the school district “to increase awareness,” that venison is available and delivery to the homebound can be arranged.

He described what had been the “normal” process of distributing venison, beginning with filling the freezer at the Recycling Center and sending out notifications via email. “The meat is first come, first served, and no effort is made to track who takes what,” he added.

But, as with most everything else, the pandemic has forced changes. Officer Payne has adjusted the system because the Recycling Center has reduced hours; the freezer could be a prime spot to become infected because it is used by the public; the town is insisting on people staying at home; “and we want to ensure that meat is available for those who truly need it,” he said. About 650 pounds of frozen meat is “in a secure location,” Officer Payne said, “specifically for those who are food insecure” or who may find themselves in that state in the future.

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Since a recent article in The New York Times appeared about deer hunting on the East End, Officer Payne has fielded calls “from all over the place. This weekend a fellow from Southampton wanted to come get some. Last week a couple from Mattituck inquired. At one point some folks from Brooklyn wanted me to reserve 25 pounds so they could drive out and pick it up.”

He’s had to politely refuse, he said, telling people the venison is for Islanders only.

In other news: The controversial 4-poster program — feeding stands that brush deer with a tickicide, permethrin — is suspended “pending further developments,” Officer Payne said.

A recent New York State Department of Environmental Conservation edict requires that no units can be placed unless 100% of neighbors within 745 feet of a 4-poster agree to their deployment. There were a few cases where neighbors had said no, blocking placement of units. But in most cases, there was no response, while the DEC requires active agreement. Lack of response counts as a vote against deployment.

Although the pandemic has focused town business on COVID-19, another serious threat to Islanders’ health has not gone away — tick-borne diseases.

As part of the committee’s mission to stem the illnesses, public outreach is being ramped up, with a program for students to make them more aware of the dangers of tick bites. Julia Weisenberg, who is a committee member, and also a member of the school district’s PTSA, said she would work on a social media collaboration to provide information.

“The ticks are out,” Alex Novarro, Mashomack’s conservation and outreach manager, told the committee. “I was covered the other day.”

He said “there is room for improvement” on placing signage at the preserve to tell people to stay on the trails and out of the woods and brush. Mashomack is also in the process of getting a regular program on Channel 22 on the dangers of tick bites and prevention methods to stay safe.