By Ellen Frankman
When it comes to the deer population in North Haven, it is no longer a question of to kill or not to kill. Residents and local officials are instead asking how many deer can be culled from the herd.
This week the Village of North Haven will release its first official deer management report, assembled by the village deer committee, a group formed last year amidst calls for deer and tick abatement. In the report, the committee put forth suggestions on how to best provide an effective reduction of the deer population in the village, with a secondary goal of reducing the tick population and thereby minimizing the impacts of tick-borne illnesses, which have grown increasingly prevalent over the last few years.
“I went to all of the major community heads and asked them to assign someone to work with us to look at the issues that we have had with deer,” said Jeff Sander, the newly elected mayor of North Haven, who has been a trustee on the village board for the last six years. Through those recommendations, Sander assembled a deer committee of 10 North Haven residents who scoured the Internet and investigated other towns’ methods of deer management in order to put forth an informed report.
“We met at least half a dozen times over the winter,” said Sander. “And we quickly came to the conclusion that there were a lot of different approaches we could take, many of which were not effective at all.”
Methods including birth control, trap and relocate, and fencing were all determined to be either ineffective or too costly.
The two approaches deemed plausible by the committee are the reduction of the deer herd through increased hunting in North Haven and the reducing of the density of ticks through the use of the 4-Poster program.
A 2013 aerial deer count found there to be 104 deer in the 2.6-mile peninsula of North Haven. That number has fallen considerably from just 1995, when local officials counted a deer population of around 450 before seasonal hunting was put into effect.
“I think hunting has done a pretty good job of maintaining the herd, not reducing it further,” said Sander. “Sometimes when hunters take one or two deer they have no need to hunt any more.” Sander believes that the deer population should be brought down to approximately 10 per square mile, which would amount to a total of 15 to 25 deer in North Haven.
“Evidence shows that when you get rid of the deer you get rid of the ticks,” said Sander, who along with the deer committee has investigated the culling practices on Fishers Island and Monhegan Island in Maine where a complete eradication of the deer population has significantly reduced the tick population. A recent tick count on North Haven has not been conducted recently, said Sander.
“One possibility we want to really discuss with the community is doing a controlled hunt on public land that the village owns and on large acreage of private homeowners,” said Sander, who said the village would also try to incorporate other successful techniques seen in Southold and Shelter Island, including deploying refrigerated trucks so that hunters could take more animals, and coordination with local butchers and food pantries to ensure that no meat would go to waste. The goal of a controlled hunt would be to kill as many deer as possible in order to bring the herd down to the target population of 15 to 25 animals.
“That’s deer genocide,” said North Haven resident Jan Scanlon. Scanlon has suffered from the alpha-gal meat allergy for eight years following a bite from a Lone Star tick, and although she recognizes something needs to be done, does not feel the eradication of the deer population is the answer.
Sander also recognizes the humane issues of wiping out a natural species, and so the 4-Poster program has also been brought to the table as a second viable option the mayor believes may be best used in tandem with a cull of the herd. The 4-Poster feeding stations attract deer with food and then put the animals in contact with permethrin, an effective tick killer.
“Personally, I’m skeptical about the 4-Poster,” said Sander. “I have a real issue with feeding the deer as an approach, and I question whether we could deploy enough units. But I am willing to support some 4-Posters in communities where people want them.”
Larry Baum, who represents North Haven Manor on the village deer committee, says he is one of the only committee members who actively supports the implementation of 4-Posters, which many find overly expensive, costing an estimated $240,000 to $250,000 per year to maintain for about 40 stations, which is the estimated number of stations the committee believes would be necessary to effectively cover the village.
“It is my personal opinion, that we should be looking at a two pronged approach, culling the deer herd and implementing the 4-Poster,” said Baum, who is personally concerned with the spread of tick-borne illness, particularly as a father of four children.
“The 4-Poster program has been very effective on Shelter Island,” said Baum. “They’ve eradicated about 98 percent of all ticks. The issue for North Haven is all about cost. For the most part people say we can’t afford it. The reality is if there are around 700 homes in North Haven, it would be around $200 or $250 a year to support the 4-Poster program.”
“That’s not even a night at the American Hotel,” said Scanlon. “I would gladly be taxed to be put in a position where we could somehow co-exist with our wildlife.”
Scanlon largely believes that the debate over deer control has become a political one over real estate values, and that local officials are failing to see what will be the inevitable long-term environmental consequences of diminishing the deer population to just a fraction of what it once was. She also believes there are consequences to uncontrolled use of pesticides in the area.
“I think what’s happening with the 4 Poster is that it contains permethrin, and I think that’s frightening to some people,” said Scanlon. “Even though we do broad spectrum spraying, which is even more frightening because your neighbor could be spraying without you knowing.”
Scanlon also believes that a culling of the deer population is a shortsighted quick fix to a long-term problem. “Then what about the squirrels, the rabbits, the birds? I think sometimes we just don’t have a future tense,” she said.
But Baum, Sander, and other members of the deer committee are adamant that 4-Posters cannot be used alone, lest the deer population grow further as a result of being fed by the units.
Shelter Island, which was a part of a study along with Fire Island into the effectiveness of the 4-Poster program, has reported significant success in reducing their tick population through the use of 4-Poster. Shelter Island resident Janalyn Travis was one of the original members of the tick task force and has since become the president of their locally created non-profit the Shelter Island Deer and Tick Management Foundation. Through the foundation and through public funding, Shelter Island raised the funds to purchase 60 4-Poster Units following a 2007 study that found the implementation of units effective.
“I spoke at the North Haven Village board meeting last fall, and tried to make a point of saying that the foundation is still active,” said Travis. “If people from North Haven want to donate to the foundation, those funds can be used specifically in that North Haven community.”
Travis explained that a culling of the deer population has also coincided with the implementation of 4-Posters on Shelter Island, as a small population of deer is necessary to carry out an effective 4-Poster program.
After getting their tick population under control, Shelter Island is currently only using about 14 to 15 4-Poster units. Though Travis believes a higher number of units should be deployed on alternating years, she also said that it would be possible for North Haven to rent their excess units.
“Why couldn’t we rent them or buy them from Shelter Island at a discounted price,” asked Baum. “That question needs to be asked an answered.”
On August 6, the next North Haven Village Board of Trustees meeting will be held, when such questions about the deer management plan can be addressed. Public participation and input will be taken into account, according to Sander, and the village board is looking for significant public input to determine in which direction the village should move.
“In the final analysis we want to listen to our neighbors and the board will vote,” said Sander. And until then, the debate goes on.