By Kathryn G. Menu
Ken Sandbank spends about $1,500 a year on cedar oil to combat ticks on his North Haven property even though he admits it “doesn’t do anything.” He estimates he also spends about $200 a year on Off! insect repellent and is contemplating thousands on a deer fence.
“And the medical expenses are not insignificant either,” said Sandbank at a North Haven Village board meeting Tuesday night.
Sandbank was one of over two dozen who attended Tuesday night’s meeting, specifically to hear about the village’s options to contend with the tick—and therefore deer—population in North Haven.
Like most who spoke after a lengthy presentation by North Haven Mayor Jeff Sander, as well as experts with knowledge about tick abatement and an official from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC), Sandbank said he was already personally spending thousands to combat the arachnids. That a comprehensive deer management plan may cost taxpayer dollars did not appear to phase Sandbank or most residents at Tuesday’s meeting.
“I think we should be aware of the money this is costing the citizens of North Haven even if we don’t do anything,” he said.
A year ago, a village board meeting about tick or deer abatement carried a very different tone — board members as a majority seemingly interested only in expanding North Haven’s deer cull as a tool to combat ticks, and more importantly, tick borne illnesses like Lyme disease, babesiosis, rickettsiosis and the alpha-gal meat allergy that has emerged with the growing Lone Star tick population. On Tuesday night, many options were presented as viable for North Haven Village — including the traditional recreational hunting season, bringing in professional snipers for controlled hunts, sterilization and deploying 4-Poster units — deer feeding stations that roll on the acaricide permethrin, killing the ticks without harming the deer.
“I think the level of interest in this has been raised significantly because of the incidences of tick borne illness in North Haven,” said Sander, crediting resident Josephine DeVincenzi with raising the level of awareness for residents about the seriousness of this issue. Last summer DeVincenzi was unrelenting in her pressure on the village board to explore tick abatement options, and specifically the 4-Poster deer management plan. That led to the creation of a committee — led by Sander and populated by interested residents, but also representatives from the private homeowner associations that dominate residential communities in North Haven.
Sander noted the committee was not just concerned with tackling tick borne illnesses that result from the deer population — an animal large enough to provide a blood meal for ticks, unlike smaller creatures, allowing them to breed — but also to help combat traffic accidents and property damage that result from the herd.
Supplied with research by village attorney Anthony Tohill, Sander said while the committee looked at a variety of deer management practices, largely it zeroed in on two practices as potential programs — increasing the deer cull and implementing a 4-Poster program.
A cull is not new in North Haven Village, which already earned approval in 1995 to expand its deer-hunting season through a nuisance deer permit. That permit, when private homeowners agree, allows for the cull of deer outside of traditional state mandated hunting seasons. At the time, North Haven counted about 456 deer in the village, compared to the 713 residents that lived there at that time.
Sander noted that aerial scans from 2002-2003 showed 310 deer in the herd, which was reduced to 75 in 2004-2005, jumped back up to 75 in 2004-2005, and was measured at 69 in 2007-2008. The most recent aerial scan, this year, estimated the population at 104. Throughout those years, the cull itself was estimated from 199 deer in 2000-2001 to 87 last year.
The accuracy of the aerial count, he noted, is debatable.
“I can tell you no one thinks there are 104 deer alone in North Haven,” he said.
This year, East Hampton conducted its own aerial scan, which counted 877 deer in the whole of that town — a figure quickly dismissed by town officials as being inaccurate for the 70 square-mile community.
“They are highly inaccurate,” said Sander.
Understanding the deer population is important, he added, noting while small animals like mice and squirrels provide host for larval and nymph ticks, a blood meal from a large animal like deer is necessary for ticks to breed.
“There is literature that shows it is effective in reducing the mass number of ticks,” said Sander of a deer cull. Mohegan Island in Maine was infested with deer ticks in the 1990s and over three winters that community rid itself entirely of its deer population. At the time 13-percent of residents reported they contracted Lyme disease.
“Within three years the ticks disappeared and Lyme was pretty much gone,” said Sander.
“We are almost an island in North Haven,” he added, noting a cull could aid residents but that there are humane issues at stake, as well as the necessity for residents to allow nuisance deer hunting on their properties.
The 4-Poster program, said Sander, is a humane way Shelter Island Town was able to combat its tick population.
“They measured as much as an 80-percent reduction,” noted Sander of the three-year study period, which began in 2007 with the aid of the Cornell Cooperative Extension.
Issues with the 4-Poster program, he said, are it does little to deal with other issues surrounding the deer population like car accidents and landscape destruction. Deer also reproduce when well fed, and the 4-Poster program is a feeding program. The stations also cost roughly $5,000 annually to purchase and maintain with corn — a commodity that has risen in cost. There are also setback limitations, said Sander, again requiring the aid of residents to allow 4-Poster devices to be set up on their properties if the program is to be successful.
However, the committee did ultimately agree that expanding the cull — Sander said the village board may introduce a resolution sometime this fall for a professional, controlled hunt — and looking at a 4-Poster program is where the village should focus its deer management efforts. The village may also look into deer meat storage options, similar to Southold Town, in an effort to encourage local hunters, said Sander.
“Whatever we do, we need to measure how successful we are,” he added, noting creating a way to measure tick populations, through flagging, is something he believes should be a priority. Measuring infected ticks is another initiative Sander said North Haven should be considering.
“Finally, I think we need to find a way to get better information from health care professionals,” said Sander.
Joshua Stiller, a biologist with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) noted that, while counts show the deer population of Long Island to be around 18,000 to 24,000, at the end of the day “there are too many.” Dropping deer populations, he added, show a scientific reduction in deer related issued like car accidents.
Recreational hunting is the most cost effective way to counter growing deer populations, and employing deer damage permits—allowing for a greater cull than allowed under state standards — is another way communities like North Haven have combated the issue. Implementing professional culls — which can cost between $3,000 and $4,000 per night — is another tool, said Stiller.
While other tools like euthanasia and relocation are explored, Stiller said outside of hunting and 4-Poster, fertility is another way communities have dealt with deer populations. It costs roughly $1,000 per female doe.
“It is effective in areas geographically isolated,” said Stiller. “In North Haven that does have an advantage.”
“The DEC does not view fertility control as a stand alone option,” he added, noting lethal control of deer populations is something the DEC deems necessary for an effective management program.
“No one size fits all,” said Stiller. “The general components are the same, but there are different ways to reach the same objective.”
He urged residents and the board to have an adaptable plan — see what works, and what doesn’t, evolving the plan accordingly. Stiller added results will not be immediate, and suggested a plan that spans years would be better in terms of realizing results.
Dr. Anthony DeNicola, co-founder and president of White Buffalo, Inc. — a deer management firm — advocated for regulated hunting, although noted state regulations can impede a hunt without homeowner consent. While he has studied vaccines and chemical sterilization as an option, with 22 years of experience Dr. DeNicola said ultimately physical sterilization and professional culls are where he has seen success.
In Cayuga Heights in upstate New York, he surgically sterilized 137 does — almost the entire population. It was effective, he said, and he has instituted similar programs in Maryland and California.
“Now every deer in that community is tagged,” he said. “All of the females are tagged and then we can track how many die and if there is a new face how many outsiders are coming in.”
Like Stiller, he advocated for a multi-pronged approach to deer management.
Janalyn Travis-Messer, president of the Shelter Island Deer and Tick Management Foundation — a not-for-profit that accepts donations to fund 4-Poster programs on Shelter Island and would also do so in North Haven — agreed.
While Shelter Island originally deployed 60 4-Poster devices with success — 40 are estimated to be needed in North Haven for similar results — the town board has reduced the number to 15. It will now need to increase that figure having met with a growing tick population after years of abatement, she said.
Shelter Island’s state representatives, Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. and State Senator Ken LaValle, have asked for $100,000 in funding for 4-Posters on Shelter Island to offset the cost. Travis-Messer said the island hopes to deploy 60 devices again.
She added the not-for-profit could accept and earmark funds from private individuals for North Haven’s own program.
Resident Glen Goodman asked about the environmental impact of the 4-poster system and how it would affect other animals. While Travis-Messer said she did not have the data in front of her, DeVincenzi noted that Group for the East End president Bob DeLuca has sent a statement supporting 4-Poster as a more environmentally friendly option to tick abatement than the spraying of pesticides.
“We really have a public health emergency,” said resident Susan Reed, adding she would support a multi-pronged approach to deer in North Haven.
“We are already spending a lot of money on prevention and attempts to do this on our own, and I think residents would appreciate an aggressive, comprehensive approach.”