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Southold’s new working group discusses ways to combat deer ticks

tick working group committee

Members of Southold Town’s newly-formed tick committee have one big thing in common: They’ve each been diagnosed with tick-borne illnesses.

And they don’t want others to suffer they way they have.

The committee agreed that reducing the area’s deer population should be a top priority instead of relying on spraying chemicals designed to kill ticks.

During the Southold Town Tick Working Group’s first meeting Monday night, the five members discussed its mission statement and goals they’d like to accomplish.

Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell kicked off the meeting and said the group is tasked with taking a look at “everything under the scope of tick management” over the next four months.

“Come up with realistic evaluations for everything,” he said.

The supervisor said Dr. Thomas Mather, director of the University of Rhode Island’s Center for Vector-Borne Disease and its TickEncounter Resource Center, recently visited him to discuss services available.

“They call him Dr. Tick,” Mr. Russell said. “He says you should focus on human behavior because people don’t have a good understanding of ticks.”

Dr. Mather offers a program that would train about 15 people to do public outreach and seminars, Mr. Russell said. The physician also offers a school program for students, which Mr. Russell said includes decals of life-sized ticks. After children apply one to their skin, Mr. Russell said they then ask their parents to find the “tick.”

The university’s program also includes tick-identification services where residents could submit a photo of a tick and have it identified within 24 hours. The tick could also be tested for $15 to determine if it’s infectious, Mr. Russell said.

Those services and others are expected to be discussed during the tick committee meetings. The Town Board created the tick working group in June and appointed James Duggan, Laura Klahre, Maureen Massa, Louis Wirtz and John Rasweiler to serve on it.

Mr. Rasweiler also serves on Suffolk County’s own countywide Tick Control Advisory Committee. He said he believes that committee is close to releasing its recommendations.

“For several of us, it hasn’t been the most satisfying experience because there seems to be a decision for more spraying and a wider deployment of 4-poster systems and deticking stations,” he said. “There are a lot of downsides to those approaches and this has inhibited our deliberations.”

Mr. Rasweiler said he’d like the town’s tick working group to establish a list of pros and cons for each method available in order to create a resource for residents that includes recommendations for all types of tick management approaches.

Blacklegged and lone-star ticks, which live on the bodies of the North Fork’s deer, can carry Lyme disease, babesiosis, anaplasmosis and other illnesses, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

These ticks are particularly dangerous because they are most likely to transmit disease in their nymph stage — just before they become adults. A ticks nymph can be as small as a poppy seed, according to the CDC’s website.

Committee members discussed several large-scale methods for addressing the tick explosion on the East End, including deer culls through hunting, spraying a tick-killing pesticide called permethrin and the “4-poster system” now being used on Shelter Island.

That system uses bins of corn to attract deer. While the deer feed, their necks and ears rub against paint rollers doused with permethrin, killing any ticks that may be attached.

While committee members acknowledged the town’s previous attempts to control the local deer population have failed — especially last year’s controversial deer cull — Mr. Wirtz said he believes reducing the number of deer is the best line of defense against tick-borne illnesses.

“I can barely walk and I’m always tired,” he said. “I can’t be helped, but I don’t want to see somebody else in this position.”

The working group has scheduled its next meeting for 6:30 p.m. on Nov. 2 in the conference room at Town Hall.

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