10/13/11 11:10pm

JIM COLLIGAN PHOTO | Deer feed at a 4-poster station.

The Town Board should budget for a $150,000-a-year 4-poster program that would put 30 units in the field covering half the Island in alternating years, the town Deer and Tick Committee has recommended.

The town budgeted $68,000 this year to put 15 4-posters in the field under a special state permit, down from the $77,000 budgeted during the last year of a three-year study that put 60 units in the field and was funded with help from county and private sources.

The committee’s chair, Patricia Shillingburg, appeared before the Town Board last month to make the case that the 4-poster study effectively eradicated ticks from Shelter Island and should be continued at a level that would continue to suppress the tick population as a matter of public health.

“The county, the town and hundreds of individual contributors — in three years — have spent over $2 million to eradicate the ticks on Shelter Island,” she told the board on September 13. Joining her was entomologist Daniel Gilrein of Suffolk County’s Cornell Cooperative Extension, who presented a summary of the Cooperative Extension’s highly detailed final report on the three-year 4-poster study, which the extension ran under a special permit issued by the state Department of Environmental Conservation only after years of debate and controversy.

The 4-poster device is not approved for use in New York State and the key purpose of the study was to allow the DEC to decide whether or not to change its rules.

Paul Curtis, a wildlife specialist at Cornell University, assisted in the experiment and took part in the September 13 Town Board presentation by speaker phone.

The 4-poster units are so-named because each of two feed bins filled with corn is framed by four posts holding rollers soaked with a solution of the chemical permethrin. The chemical is transferred to the deer’s neck and ears when they lean into the bins to eat. Permethrin is the same chemical used in public health mosquito abatement programs, indoor and outdoor residential sites and on pets and clothing, according to NPIC, the National Pesticide Information Center.

Mr. Gilrein noted that permethrin was found in coat swabs of deer in 36 out of 39 cases, demonstrating that the 4-poster program did work in coating deer with a tick-killing agent. Deer are the prime host of ticks, which congregate on their heads, neck and ears. Mr. Gilrein said decreases in tick population “were relatively greater in areas where 4-posters were used, and 4-posters appear to have had a significant impact” on the Island’s overall tick population.

Mr. Gilrein presented data showing that 4-posters increased indirect contacts among deer “but not direct contacts,” which he said countered a theory that the 4-poster system could cause the spread of disease — one of the reasons the state forbids feeding or “baiting” deer.

The chemical did not impact deer population growth or reproductive success and the 4-poster program did not increase deer-vehicle collisions, according to the final report, Mr. Gilrein said.

The next step for the Town Board is to decide how many 4-poster units to maintain in the field. In the 2008-2010 study, 60 4-poster units were installed to cover the “Area B/North” and “Area A/South” sections of the Island.

At last month’s meeting, Ms. Shillingburg handed out a sheet titled “Deer and Tick Committee Report,” in which the committee proposes the installation of 30 units, costing $5,000 each to maintain and operate, for a total cost of $150,000 a year. In the report, the committee recommends covering the “North” section in 2012 and the “South” section in 2013.

“You may contemplate covering only one quarter of the Island as you did last year,” Ms. Shillingburg said, referring to the 15 units. “This decision, however, is not based on science and, the committee believes, will be self-defeating in the end” because it would allow the tick population to recover.

Ms. Shillingburg warned the board of the dangers of complacency: “The last option is, of course, to do nothing and move on, recognizing that within five years, the Island will have returned to the state where our citizens and our economy are in jeopardy from tick-borne diseases,” she said. “The committee is well aware that it is presenting you with a moral dilemma. There is little money in the till but the physical health of the community and its economic viability are at stake so there is really only one right thing to do.”

“I’d like to see it done,” a man in the audience said at last month’s meeting. “My wife was diagnosed with Lyme again this year … I can’t believe the casual attitude on the part of some” toward tick-borne illness, he said.

Although the presentation was on the topic of tick eradication, questions about the numbers of deer on the Island and the impact of 4-poster placement on hunting were raised by Councilman Glenn Waddington, who is running for town supervisor. He surmised that the deer population is increasing on Shelter Island.

“I don’t exactly want the deer to do fine,” he said.

Mr. Curtis warned that the deer population had to be reduced to 15 per square mile to have a 4-poster program work properly and warned of using a “hodgepodge” approach to their deployment. Installing “15 or 20 and moving them around,” he said, “may not accomplish the goal. I would go for more complete coverage.”

Mr. Waddington said there was an outcry from hunters when the “North” 4-poster study area was closed and again when the “South” was off limits. He said the town should be “ramping up our culling of the deer” but “we couldn’t do that during the study. We didn’t want to skew the results.”

Police Chief James Read objected to Mr. Waddington’s assertion that the town’s special-permit deer-hunt program was falling short because the number of deer taken had been declining. He said there was a natural leveling off of the deer harvest over the years because the hunt had been successful in reducing the herd so it had become harder to bag a deer.

Mr. Gilrein addressed concerns about deer meat being safe to eat after deer had been exposed to 4-posters. Of 20 Shelter Island deer tested, none had the chemical in their  livers and none out of 23 had it in their hindquarter muscles. Six out of 39 deer tested positive for the chemical in their neck muscles. Permethrin was also found on the coats of deer in North Haven, the control area, where 4-posters were not installed. Ten of 15 deer sampled had positive detections of the chemical in coat swabs. Many residents on North Haven have their yards sprayed with a permethrin solution to control ticks, as do an estimated 400 homeowners on Shelter Island.

Vegetation destruction around 4-posters was also measured. Mr. Gilrein said there was some impact on some areas at some distances but that “damage is so high already, it’s very hard to tease out. There is a great deal of deer damage. That was obvious before the study began.”

Town Supervisor Jim Dougherty asked Mr. Gilrein if New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation was going to allow the use of permethrin in 4-posters in the future. “The DEC has not made a registration opinion yet,” Mr. Gilrein said.

The town’s continuing 15-unit program is allowed under a special permit issued by the DEC to the town.

08/27/11 4:00am

REPORTER FILE PHOTO | An adult female black-legged tick. Sometimes referred to as a deer tick, this species can transmit Lyme disease.

This is the first installment of a two-part account of a forum on tick-borne illnesses in Sag Harbor last week. Part two will appear next week.

Bitten by a tick as a child during a summer stay in Bridgehampton, Ally Hilfiger began experiencing full-blown flu-like symptoms and joint pain by age seven. Over the next 11 years, she was diagnosed by different doctors with diseases ranging from arthritis to fibromyalgia and multiple sclerosis.

“I spent a lot of my life in what is called the Lyme Fog,” Ms. Hilfiger told an audience of 100 people attending a forum on Lyme and other tick-borne diseases in Sag Harbor last Friday. “Nothing helped with the pain or the disorientation.”

At age 19, she saw a psychologist in Connecticut who said “this sounds like Lyme.” Earlier blood tests for Lyme, she recalled, had been “marginal or inconclusive.” With this diagnosis, however, “which included a co-infection” with babesiosis, she embarked upon a seven-year regime of antibiotics and IV drips.

She has been symptom-free for the past year. “I believe I went through this so I can stand before you and spread this message,” she said. “You must be an advocate for this disease. You must also know that tests can be wrong and doctors can make mistakes. You know your body and when things aren’t right you need to trust your instincts.”

The forum, “Lyme Disease in the Hamptons — What You Need to Know,” was presented by Time For Lyme, Inc. on August 19 at Bay Street Theater. Four panelists provided detailed information on the disease, including updates on the latest research, common misconceptions, prevention strategies and a personal story of mis-diagnosis.

Time for Lyme is a non-profit organization based in Greenwich, Connecticut, the mission of which is to fund and promote outreach for Lyme and other tick-borne diseases. According to co-founder Diane Blanchard, the group is dedicated to increasing awareness of the diseases through education and prevention programs.

The purpose of Friday’s program, Ms. Blanchard told the audience, was “to introduce you to some very important resources right here in your own community.”

The panelists included George P. Dempsey, M.D., a family practioner in East Hampton who has been studying Lyme among his East End patients since 2000; Darin G. Wiggins, M.D., chairman of the Department of Emergency Medicine, Southampton Hospital; Benjamin J. Luft, M.D., an academic physician, researcher and chairman of the Department of Medicine at Stony Brook State University,  who is involved in research on the disease; and Ms. Hilfiger, the Time for Lyme spokesperson who told of her long struggle with the disease. The panel was moderated by Dr. Luft.

“My goal is to make Lyme disease manageable for those who live out here,” said Dr. Dempsey. While Lyme was first diagnosed in 1975 in Lyme, Connecticut, Dr. Dempsey said that records show that a Dr. John Walker wrote about Lyme-like symptoms on an island off the coast of Scotland in 1764. And Pliny the Elder, who lived between 23-79 A.D., wrote “Ticks: the foulest and nastiest creatures that be.”

CO-INFECTIONS COMMON

There are now some 10 tick-borne diseases that have been identified and at least 32 percent of infected ticks carry more than one pathogen, making co-infections like Ms. Hilfiger’s very common, Dr. Dempsey said. Spring is the most active time for nymphs and is the time, he said, “when we see the most disease.” Nymphs tend to be down low, in leaf mulch and other warm, moist areas. Adult ticks, on the other hand, are capable of jumping and are often found in high grass or on animal trails. “They have a highly developed sense of smell and wait for an animal, such as a deer, to come by and then jump on it.” In general, ticks do not like dry environments, windy settings, beaches, rocks and pebbles, which is a good list of landscaping “do’s” that will help minimize the tick population on a property.

Through his highly graphic slides, Dr. Dempsey sought to reassure the audience that “not every insect bite is a tick bite and not every tick bite carries disease.”

A tick bite rash usually doesn’t hurt, it is not that itchy, the area tends to be warm and the bite site gets progressively larger. “If the rash lasts more than two or three days and is larger than a silver dollar, then it could be a tick,” he said. While the bull’s eye rash is believed to be the hallmark of Lyme, Dr. Dempsey was quick to point out with slides that there is a wide range of rash-like manifestations.

05/18/11 10:22pm

CARRIE ANN SALVI | 4-poster in Sachem’s Woods.

At least some of this year’s 15 tick-killing feeding stations known as 4-posters were put in place on Friday, May 13. The devices were placed by town highway and Cornell Cooperative Extension personnel in locations that have been used in the past. They include South Ferry, Silver Beach, Sachem’s Woods, Goat Hill, the firehouses and several private tracts. The areas were chosen due to their dense deer and tick populations.

Also assisting in the installation was Jennifer Zacha, a clerk at the Shelter Island Police Department and Premier Pest Control.

According to Patricia Shillingburg, chair of the town’s Deer and Tick Committee, “We have pretty much killed the ticks on Shelter Island wherever the 4-posters have been placed.” She based her assertion on tick counts that were performed after the first three full years of the deployment of the devices.

The devices, which the town began using experimentally under a special state permit four years ago, have four posts on which paint rollers soaked in permethrin are installed. Deer feed on corn in containers located between the rollers, treating their ears and necks with the pesticide as they eat. Ticks concentrate in the ear and neck area of deer, which are their primary host, according to scientists who invented the 4-poster for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

There has been some concern that, because of permitting and other delays, the 4-posters were not installed early enough in the season this year to be effective. Ideally, they should be installed before or during the period of highest tick activity. That can be as early as March for deer ticks and mid-April for lone star ticks. Entomologist Dan Gilrein of Cornell Cooperative Extension, wh is managing the program, said the timing won’t undermine the ongoing effort to reduce the Island’s tick population. “It is an ongoing process,” he said, “with improving results every year, and even if a few [ticks] are missed, the program will still be highly beneficial. It just adds to the leakage”.

The 4-posters were installed later than usual because of the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC)’s permit requirements, the bidding of vendors for the feed required to attract the deer, and details involved in organizing the setup and care of the devices, Mr. Gilrein said. He gave the DEC credit for issuing the permit quickly after the town’s original three-year permit expired, but added there had been details such as site location and getting permissions from property owners.

Financed by the town, and with responsibilities being taken on by the town’s Highway Department, as well as assistance by the Police Department and Deer and Tick Committee, the town’s partnership with the Cooperative Extension is working well, Mr. Gilrein said. Aside from the effectiveness of the 4-poster, tick populations have been trending down beyond Shelter Island. “There has been a general population decline in North Haven and other areas of the East End,” he said, where the 4-posters have not been installed, “but the decline is even more significant on Shelter Island.”

02/23/11 11:37pm

The Department of Environmental Conservation is unlikely to approve 4-poster deer feeding stations for use in reducing ticks in time for the town to deploy them by mid-March, Cornell scientist Dr. Dan Gilrein told the Deer and Tick Committee February 16.

The DEC awaits Cornell Cooperative Extension’s final report on Shelter Island 4-poster study, an approximately three-year test of the efficacy and safety of the devices. The report is expected to be finished in the coming weeks. The DEC will “pore over” the results before deciding whether to allow the devices for use in New York State, Dr. Gilrein said.

The 4-poster applies a permethrin-based tickicide on deer as they feed on corn in the bait stations. The Deer and Tick Committee is charged with investigating whether the town should continue the 4-poster program if the DEC gives approval.

The devices were deployed in mid-March in 2009 and 2010. That is considered  the best time of the year to deploy the 4-posters so they can kill newly hatched tick larvae. The devices were deployed in mid-April in 2008.

Committee Chairwoman Patricia Shillingburg suggested deploying the 4-posters every other year “even if we have everything lined up with the permission from the DEC.”

Testing showed tick numbers were “very, very low last year,” Dr. Gilrein said, “so you can coast on that for at least a short time.”

The town has budgeted $68,000 for the program this year, but Dr. Gilrein explained that it would cost upwards of $120,000 to deploy and maintain about 20 units from mid-March through mid-December, the period that the units were deployed in the past two years. The cost of a shorter deployment would be less.

There were 60 units in the field over the past three years, though Dr. Gilrein has said that the numbers of units is likely not necessary if “key” areas are targeted.

The tick study has been supported by private donations and funding from the county and state, as well as the town. It’s not clear that the program will receive similar support beyond the testing phase. In 2009 and 2010, the 60 units in the field included 20 that Suffolk County Vector Control maintained in Mashomack Preserve, and the Department of Environmental Conservation provided $120,000 to close a budget gap.

Town Supervisor Jim Dougherty said during the meeting that the program is likely to receive more grants or donations once the program has been approved by the DEC.


12/15/10 9:04pm

JIM COLLIGAN PHOTO | Whether Island deer like this one will be treated for ticks by 4-posters next year depends on the results of the Cornell study.

The future of the 4-poster program is up in the air as the Town Board, Deer and Tick Committee and state and county agencies wait for the Cornell Cooperative Extension to complete the report of its study sometime this spring.

Until then, discussion of a future deployment of 4-posters is on hold: the Deer and Tick Committee agreed during its November 17 meeting that it would not meet again until the results are out.

“It’s a really uneasy position we’re in here,” explained committee member Mike Scheibel. “There’re just too many unknowns.” The committee has discussed options for a future 4-poster deployment, such as another year of 60 units in the field (the same as in the past three years), a partial deployment, or deploying units just every other year. But without the final analysis and recommendations from Cornell scientist Dr. Dan Gilrein, who conducted the Shelter Island 4-poster study, the committee has nothing to base its discussion on.

The town allocated $68,000 for the 4-poster program in the 2011 budget. That’s enough to deploy and maintain approximately 20 4-posters. But Town Supervisor Jim Dougherty told the Reporter that doesn’t necessarily mean there will be 20 units in the field next year, or any at all: “There’s no decision whatsoever regarding 20 units, 60 units or no deployment. The budget is our signal to the world, particularly Cornell and the DEC, that Shelter Island is ready to be a player again. We’re showing our positive attitude … and that we endorse the program.”

He said during the November 17 meeting that if that money isn’t spent it can be carried over to a future year. For instance, if Dr. Gilrein recommended alternate year deployment, the money in that budget could be preserved for the following year. He added, “If a positive report goes out from Cornell I do expect some money to fall out of the trees — not out of the town trees, but out of other sources.” The program has relied on outside donations and grants throughout the study period. The program received a $120,000 DEC grant earlier this year to complete this winter’s field work and to finish the data analysis and report writing this spring.

Janalyn Travis-Messer, the president of the Shelter Island Deer and Tick Management Foundation, told the Reporter “I don’t know whether people are going to be generous over the holiday season but I certainly hope they will be … The foundation needs to be a main financial source for this program.”

Mr. Dougherty said during the November meeting that whether Suffolk County Vector Control will continue to participate in a future deployment “is still an open issue, but it’s going to be tough.” Currently Vetor Control maintains the 20 units in Mashomack Preserve, but their future involvement is also contingent on the results of the final study.

In order to put out any 4-posters, the town would have to either receive a new DEC permit to use the permethrin solution or the DEC would have to register the devices for all of New York State. Vinny Palmer, assistant commissioner of the DEC and former head of the Bureau of Pesticides, said that the DEC hasn’t made a decision as to whether it will permit future use of the 4-poster tickicide or deer baiting beyond the three-year study, and that it won’t until after the data is analyzed. Still, he said, “Nothing has developed in connection with the study that caused any concern and … all indications are that we’ll likely look to register 4-poster tickicide and authorize baiting of the deer in connection with this technology.”

Though the final verdict isn’t in yet, Dr. Gilrein has given strong indications that the 4-posters have been effective in reducing tick numbers while not negatively impacting the deer, the environment or the community. He said during an October 19 presentation that the drop in tick numbers from 2008 through 2010, according to the raw data as determined by yearly tick drags, “has been very, very high overall,” he said. In North Haven, the control site where there are no 4-posters, “we have a fairly high drop but it doesn’t nearly match the Shelter Island level.”

He has also said that a few of the 4-poster sites used in the study could be eliminated in a future deployment, but that he would have to analyze the data to prioritize their locations.

Though the Deer and Tick Committee is more or less sidelined until the study is released, that doesn’t mean it won’t play a crucial role later on. Mr. Dougherty said: “I’m optimistic we’re going to have a future for the 4-poster on the Island or some variant thereof — the science continues to evolve. I have personally found in my three years that the committee has been both a very helpful sounding board and educational resource, and part of the management team. I don’t see them fading away in any sense at all.”