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Island physician joins Deer & Tick Committee: Stats from recreational hunters reported

Dr. Josh Potter, M.D., whose office is in the Town Medical Center, has been appointed to the Deer & Tick Committee. Introducing him at the Dec. 1 meeting, Committee Chairman Dr. James Bevilacqua, M.D., said he will be in a “pivotal”  position to enhance the educational effort members are making in their outreach to the community.

Member Julia Weisenberg has been leading an educational subcommittee aimed at making residents and visitors aware of how to avoid being bitten by ticks and developing tick-borne illnesses. She is also providing information about the availability of deer meat donated by hunters without charge to the public, posting podcasts on how to prepare meals using the meat and posting educational material to social media sites.

Without disclosing any personal information about patients, Dr. Potter will be in a position to provide information on trends he’s seeing relating to tick-borne illnesses.

The Town Board brought on Dr. Potter to fill one of the open positions on the Committee and is actively interviewing candidates for a fifth seat with the expectation that a new member could be on board by Jan. 12 when the Committee meets next.

Beau Payne, the Police Department’s liaison to the Deer & Tick Committee, provided updated data showing that 82 deer were culled from the herd through the end of November by 29 hunters. He said the number was up a little from the same recreational hunt last year when there were 22 active hunters participating.

Hunters have anecdotally reported they are spending more time in the field while taking fewer deer than has been the case in past years.

Ms. Weisenberg, who is a hunter, reported that she’s spent 60 hours in the field, sometimes seeing few or no deer.

As a general rule, Mr. Payne said fewer deer taken in longer periods of time hunting would indicate a reduction in the deer herd. Toward the end of January, weather and other factors permitting, a flyover, using infrared video techniques from 1,600 feet, will take place to provide information on the number of deer on the Island. Last year’s flyover showed there has definitely been a decline in the number of deer on the Island, pointing to success of the Island’s efforts.

The current estimate is about 50 deer per square mile, approaching about half as many as there were a few years ago. What’s considered ideal by many experts is 10 deer per square mile; the Island may never record that number, said Councilman Jim Colligan, the Town Board’s liaison to the Deer & Tick Committee.

The Town has never adopted a target number, but only spoken of reducing the herd in stages and that appears to be happening.

Hunters are encouraged to take does to avoid their giving birth to additional deer.

Of the deer taken, 25 were from 15 town-managed properties, Mr. Payne reported. Estimates of black-legged ticks responsible for Lyme disease on the Island have shown a slight increase based on tick drags at various sites, Mr. Payne said.

Hunters have placed 53 deer carcasses in a freezer unit at the Cobbetts Lane Firehouse site, retrieving 28 for their own use and donating the rest to the Town program that provides meat to anyone who wants to retrieve it from a refrigerated unit at the Town Recycling Center.

Mr. Payne said he sometimes gets angry messages from people when deer meat isn’t plentiful. So far this year, 600 pounds of meat have been available compared to 270 pounds last year.

Besides making the meat available at the Recycling Center, he worked with school officials last year to identify families who were “food insecure” to get deer meat to them.

He encourages residents to take the meat when it’s available, noting there are no restrictions, but people should only take what they need. He has observed some walking in the rain to get meat, while others drive up in high-priced vehicles to partake of the free meat.