Future of North Haven’s 4-Poster Tick-Killing Program Up for Discussion

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Horticulturalist Chris Miller with one of North Haven's tick-killing, deer-feeding 4-poster units last summer. Peter Boody photo

The mayor of the only municipality in the region besides Shelter Island that deploys 4-poster feeding stations to kill ticks on deer this week said it’s time for a “good discussion” on whether they are worth the money and effort — or whether the village “should just continue to cull the [deer] herd” as the best way to reduce the tick population.

North Haven Village Mayor Jeff Sander, who oversaw the introduction of the program in 2015 and the doubling of its budget to more than $120,000 this year, told the Village Board at its monthly meeting on Tuesday, December 10, that he’d recently heard Dr. John Rasweiler, a member of the Suffolk County Tick Advisory Committee, report at the panel’s November 22 meeting that there’s “no real hard evidence to show” that Shelter Island’s 4-poster program has “done anything to reduce ticks.” Mr. Sander is a member of the county panel.

That news “has some bearing” on the board’s upcoming budget talks for the next fiscal year, the mayor said.

The tick panel also heard about pending new regulations from the State Department of Environmental Conservation to require the village to obtain written permission to deploy 4-posters from any neighbor within 750 feet, which the mayor said would be “hard to do.”

The same rule change is forcing Shelter Island to reconsider its 4-poster program, which dates back about a decade to an experimental deployment of 60 units across the island for three years. It dramatically reduced the tick population, according to evidence collected by the Cornell Cooperative Extension.

But after the $2 million in state, county and private funding for the experiment ended, the town — which is much larger than North Haven Village — reduced its 4-poster deployment, initially to 15 units, funded by taxpayers. The program currently deploys 37 units.

Shelter Island is asking the DEC for an exemption from the new rule; if it does not obtain one, some members of its Deer and Tick Committee have said the program will be impossible to continue.

The 4-poster devices have two buckets filled with cracked corn, with two vertical paint rollers mounted on either side of each bucket. The rollers are charged with a 10-percent solution of the insecticide permethrin. The rollers coat the ears, heads and necks of the feeding deer, killing ticks where they tend to concentrate on the animals.

After anecdotal and other evidence that North Haven’s 4-posters were proving to be effective, the mayor’s announcement that it was time to reconsider it came as a surprise.

During annual budget discussions last March, Mayor Sander said the 4-poster program had shown some success after four seasons of deployment, prompting him to call for the hike in spending to buy and deploy six more units at $500 each.

The village started with 12 units in 2015 and had 18 to deploy during the 2019 season. It pays horticulturalist Chris Miller to maintain them. The village increased Mr. Miller’s stipend just this year to cover his time conducting tick “drags” in an effort to measure the effectiveness of the program for the first time.

He checked seven sites in June and October and found a dramatic decline in the number of ticks collected — from 918 in June to 161 in October — but cautioned that seasonal variations in the number, type and maturities are to be expected. It was too early to interpret the numbers, he said.

Mayor Sander, reporting on the findings at the November board meeting, said he was most interested in knowing how next year’s June and October numbers would compare.

The mayor also reported at the meeting in November that bow hunters, who cull the deer herd in North Haven every fall, had been finding “no ticks” on the deer. Also, he previously had said that highway crews collecting dead deer on North Haven’s roadsides were finding few ticks on the animals.

Mayor Sander agreed that things seemed better. He said he had three dogs and no longer had to pull ticks off them every time he took them for walks.

Despite the anecdotal evidence, Mayor Sander has commented at past board meetings that he thinks eliminating deer may be the most effective way to reduce the tick population.

The three-year test on Shelter Island was conducted from 2008 to 2011, only after years of resistance from the DEC. It relented only after a Shelter Island resident, former Governor Hugh Carey, wrote the sitting governor at the time, George Pataki, to order the DEC as a matter of public health to allow a test to see if 4-posters could lower the tick population and thus reduce the incidence of tick-borne illness on the island.

Until then, the DEC in Albany had adamantly opposed the use of 4-posters in New York State even though every other state except Hawaii and Alaska had no rules against them.

The DEC said then — and continues to argue — that drawing groups of deer to baiting stations might spread chronic wasting disease among the state’s deer herd. It also said then that the tickicide deployed by the 4-poster was not registered for use in the state — it has since been approved for use in the 4-poster.

The state’s hunting lobby bitterly opposed the 4-posters, fearing the tickicide it deployed would taint deer meat.

According to a Cornell report on the test-program that was released in 2011, Shelter Island’s 4-posters were found to be highly effective in killing ticks while introducing no more permethrin into the environment than can be found by testing deer on North Haven, which was used as a control site. There were no 4-posters there at the time, and yet trace amounts of permethrin were found in its deer, most likely from the broadcast spraying of private yards and lawns by pest control companies using permethrin-based chemicals.

Levene Dock

Also at the 35-minute monthly meeting of the North Haven Village Board, the two board members present besides Mayor Sander — Trustees Dianne Skilbred and James Laspesa — pushed resident Dan Levene to find a Dark Skies-compliant glare shield to use on a light he installed on his new dock at 55 Coves End Lane without prior permission.

Mayor Sander said he had no problem with the custom-made shade Mr. Levene said he’d had fashioned because he couldn’t find what the board requested last month, when it retroactively granted permission for the dock to have the light as well as water service. The two other board members, however, argued that it wasn’t hard to find shades compliant with local Dark Skies regulations.

Last month, when only three members of the five-person board were also present, the board amended the dock permit it had granted Mr. Levene in May. The original permit required steps on the dock so beachgoers could walk over it and prohibited the installation of electrical and water service.

But no steps were installed on the dock, and electrical and water service were put in, all in violation of the permit conditions, according to Building Inspector George Butts, who also has wrangled with Mr. Levene over unapproved changes made during the construction of his house over the past year.

The board voted, 3-0, at the November meeting to waive the requirement for steps after Mr. Levene, who was in the audience, told the board that anybody walking on the beach would be trespassing, because the rocky shoreline prevents access below the private upland.

There was no discussion at the time of the water service that had been installed. Regarding the electrical service, the board agreed to require Mr. Levene to install a glare shield to direct any light from the dock fixture downward.

Board member James Laspesa agreed on Tuesday to inspect the light and shade and report back to board members.

Hearing Rescheduled

Also on Tuesday, because a required legal notice was not published, the board was unable to conduct a scheduled public hearing on a proposed code amendment to add a ban on terraces, roof decks and balconies above the second story of any dwelling to the village’s building height restrictions.

It rescheduled the hearing for a special meeting of the board at 10:30 a.m. on Monday, December 23.

The trustees received a draft revised rental law proposal from Village Attorney Scott Middleton that Mayor Sander said would not set any minimum time limit for house rentals. The mayor said he favored limiting homeowners to one rental every two-week period, as proposed in the draft, which he said would address the neighborhood disruption caused by renters moving in and out. Board members did not comment on that issue, but Ms. Skilbred suggested requiring owners to be present in any residential rental, which the mayor opposed.

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