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Minimal changes in Shelter Island tick numbers: Committee focusing on education

Tracking ticks is no easy matter, members of the Deer & Tick Committee acknowledged at their July 3 meeting.

But every year, anecdotal evidence seems to point to increases, according to Beau Payne, who offered the data on Lone Star nymphs, the young ticks that typically feed on deer. Mr. Payne coordinates the hunting program on Shelter Island through the Police Department.

The Lone Stars are tracked by simply waving a small cloth “flag” through the same ground areas where they have been tracked in past years. It was expected that when the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation banned use of 4-poster units in 2020 that the number of ticks would rise.

The units, which rubbed tickicide on the necks of deer as they fed on corn, were used on Shelter Island for more than 20 years when the Town was one of the first municipalities chosen to test their use.

The average number of ticks is down from last year, but in line with, or close to, the average numbers extrapolated in 2021 and 2022, but lower than those tracked in 2023.

The average showing on flags that year was 136, while two passes in 2024 showed averages of 56 and 85 nymphs. In 2021, the average was 82 and the following year, 74.

The thrust of the committee’s efforts is defined in terms of protecting public health, so prescriptions for two medications that treat tick-borne diseases are also being tracked. Doxycyline is prescribed for Lyme disease and Atovaquone for babesiosis.

Numbers for doxycyline prescriptions showed an increase from 2021 through 2023, although they were not as high as they were in 2020 when the Shelter Island Heights Pharmacy filled 754 prescriptions. In 2023, doxycyline prescriptions were filled 591 times; in 2021, 503 times; and in 2022, 536 times, according to the information Mr. Payne provided.

As for Atovaquone, at its height in 2019 those numbers were at 16; in 2023, there were only 10 such prescriptions, up from six in 2023.

The efforts to combat diseases over the last two years have been on public education, reaching out to students and families about preventive measures. Deer & Tick Committee member Julia Weisenberg has led a program, working with Mashomack Preserve personnel, visiting classrooms to provide information.

The programs, aimed at students in grades 3 through 6, are taught with games while imparting important messages.

In addition, Ms. Weisenberg has been teaching archery on weekends in May, June and July. The hope is some will go on to become hunters, helping to cull the Island’s deer herd.