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Flyover reveals spike in Island deer numbers: Earlier optimism countered by facts

Just a few weeks ago the Deer & Tick Committee was optimistic about anticipated results from a flyover expected to reveal that the population of deer on the Island would show a sharp decline.

But Tuesday, Councilman Jim Colligan revealed raw numbers he said are not promising. This year’s flyover revealed 640 deer on Shelter Island, up from 635 last year. In addition, deer generally give birth in the spring, so that number could spike to nearly 1,000 this year, Mr. Colligan speculated.

The target of fewer than 500 deer at this point had been anticipated before this year’s flyover, which collects data based on information using infrared video techniques from 1,600 feet.  What led to the speculation about a declining deer population was anecdotal information coming from hunters who said they were spending more time in the field, but often coming home empty handed. The committee read that as a sign there were fewer deer on the Island.

Committee member and specially licensed Nuisance Wildlife Control Officer (NWCO) Julia Weisenberg  had told her colleagues in early April she spent long periods hunting deer with negative results. A NWCO hunter is licensed to hunt outside the normal recreational hunting seasons.

For the past two seasons, the Town has been banned by the State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) from using 4-poster units — feeding stands that brush deer with a tickicide, permethrin — to kill ticks nested on the bodies of deer. But  the DEC ruled that feeding deer was not a successful means of dealing with the problem.

Now it falls to Beau Payne, who handles all aspects of the town’s deer management program, including providing support and data to the Deer & Tick Committee, and Committee Chairman Dr. James Bevilacqua and other members to interpret the numbers and make decisions on  how to proceed.

At this point, one bright fact about the deer hunts through the years is the amount of venison made available to residents without charge. Since the town began tracking meat from deer in 2016, 16,000 pounds of venison has been donated by hunters — enough for 50,000 meals.

“That’s “significant,” Mr. Payne told the committee in early April. There hasn’t been a single report of anyone becoming sick from consuming the venison, he said, referring to those who worried permethrin would permeate the meat.

The free venison program instituted by the Town provides for deer taken to be butchered and the venison made available free of charge at a refrigerated unit at the Recycling Center.