As someone who has been hospitalized with a tick borne illness, New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. doesn’t just view the issue as a problem, but as an epidemic facing residents across the East End.
During a North Haven Village Board meeting on Tuesday night, Thiele was one of several speakers discussing the possibility of the village implementing a 4-Poster tick management program in an effort to reduce tick populations, and ideally the associated illness.
On Tuesday, Thiele said the problem was not one unique to North Haven. He suggested that the East End Mayors and Supervisors be given the same presentation made at North Haven Village Hall by Vincent Palmer, the special assistant to the commissioner of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and entomologist Dan Gilrein with the Cornell Cooperative Extension on 4-Poster tick management effectiveness.
“I think a regional strategy needs to be devised,” said Thiele, adding that the State of New York technically owns deer and should therefore be involved one way or another in devising a financing strategy for a regional solution to tick borne illnesses.
Thiele’s comments followed a lengthy, and occasionally contentious, discussion about the effectiveness of a 4-Poster tick management plan.
Following a five-year study across the northeast, the Cornell Cooperative Extension completed a three-year study on 4-Poster devices on Shelter Island in 2011. At the close of the study, it was determined the 4-Poster technology helped reduce tick populations by 95-percent.
The devices are dual feeding stations which are filled with corn to attract deer, but are designed to apply the insecticide permethrin to the necks, head, ears and shoulders of deer which are forced to rub up against applicator rollers as they feed at the stations.
According to Palmer, the DEC is “inclined” to issue North Haven Village a permit to use the devices if the village board asks for it.
“If you tackle deer management and tick management at the same time it has proved to be very effective,” he said.
Mayor Laura Nolan asked about the long-term effect of permethrin on the environment.
Palmer noted that currently residents are using a tremendous amount of pesticides in spraying for ticks.
“We have over 100 pesticides in Long Island groundwater,” said Palmer, noting permethrin has not been found as it is used in a targeted fashion on deer specifically, unlike spraying.
A program takes three-years, he added, to be effective.
Nolan noted other animals, such as the white-footed mouse, also carry ticks and spread tick borne illnesses, but Palmer countered that without the deer population the population of deer ticks cannot sustain itself.
“They are the key in the equation,” he said.
According to Gilrein, North Haven Village would likely need as many as 40 to 50 4-poster units to be effective.
“After ticks are significantly reduced, can you reduce the number of devices or from a cost perspective do you have to have them forever,” wondered North Haven Trustee Jeff Sander.
According to Gilrein, Shelter Island had as many as 60 devices deployed during its study and now use just 19 devices, moved throughout the township.
Gilrein added he has had pesticide applicators and residents on Shelter Island tell him they are not spraying on properties as much as they used to.
However, according to Palmer, it is almost impossible to quantify the reduction in tick-borne illnesses as state health officials determined getting that kind of information was nearly impossible.
Nolan agreed, noting Southampton College had previously conducted research on the prevalence of tick-borne illnesses on the East End, but that information has not been updated in almost two decades.
“That is unfortunate because there is a certain level of hysteria about this and there is no way of knowing if this is a problem that fluctuates over a few a years,” she said.
Nolan added North Haven Village has been proactive in culling its deer herd, which in itself is a preventative measure.
While most residents appeared supportive of the concept, resident Richard Gambino was sharply critical of the study, noting research completed by the University of Pennsylvania confirms a number of other animals are hosts for ticks, and therefore tick-borne illnesses.
According to that research, the white footed mouse accounts for a quarter of infected ticks and nearly 90 percent of ticks feeding on an infected mouse contract Lyme disease, one of the most prevalent tick borne illnesses.
Gambino also charged that permethrin is listed as a “poison” that is especially toxic to cats, honeybees and other beneficial insects.
He also worried that with North Haven being a peninsula, not an island, deer could be attracted by the feeding stations into the village and questioned whether or not the data truly shows a reduction in tick populations.
Lastly, Gambino said the village was successful in culling its deer population and according to village records had reduced the population to just over 60 in the herd. He suggested if deer are the problem, the village should hire professional hunters to cull the rest of the herd.
However, Larry Baum, who moved to North Haven from Sag Harbor a year ago, said he has experienced first hand how prevalent ticks are in North Haven and despite respecting Gambino’s position, said he would offer his help in fundraising if necessary to get the program off the ground.
“But it shouldn’t be money that prevents us from protecting the families and children and the community that lives here,” said Baum, adding if an alternative idea is available the community should hear it.
Palmer said despite Gambino’s comments, if the ticks on deer are taken out of the equation, years of research show it is an effective tool in combating the problem.