Tommy John Schiavoni recalls his childhood days romping outdoors and exploring the woods. He once contracted Rocky Mountain spotted fever from a tick bite, but for the most part, ticks weren’t a big problem.
“We had dog ticks — wood ticks, we called them — but not these new species and infections,” Mr. Schiavoni, a Southampton Town councilman who lives in North Haven, said this week. “What is it about our environment that has changed that is bringing these diseases here?”
Mr. Schiavoni was referring to new species of ticks and types of tick-borne illnesses that have increasingly encroached on Long Island ecosystems. They go beyond the deer ticks and Lyme disease that many people know about to include pests like lone star ticks and afflictions such as the alpha-gal allergy, anaplasma and babesia.
“I believe that governments on all levels need to be addressing this,” said Mr. Schiavoni, who is leading the tick mitigation discussions in Southampton. “The natural first step, I believe, is research. Science.”
That’s exactly what’s on the table, thanks to a joint effort between eight villages and two towns in Suffolk County. Through a program called SuffolkSHARE Public Health Partnership, the municipalities will pool information and resources to boost the Suffolk County Department of Health Services in collection of data, testing of tick samples and other research. Municipalities can also achieve savings on materials by buying them through cooperative purchasing contracts.
“This new partnership is another example of local governments working together to save taxpayer dollars and protect the public health of our residents,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said in a statement. “…We are expanding education, collection and analysis to ensure that we have the information and resources at our disposal to deal with these illnesses head on.”
On the East End, the towns of Shelter Island and Southampton are taking part, as are the villages of North Haven and East Hampton.
Mr. Schiavoni said Southampton has budgeted $20,000 to start a research program. “What we want to do is increase the number of testing sites in the town so we can have data,” he said. The only way to measure a program’s effectiveness, he said, “is to have baseline data to start.”
In North Haven, the village board recently approved spending $5,000 on six additional “4-poster” units to combat ticks. These are deer feeding systems that expose deer to tick-lethal insecticide. The village will now have 18 units scattered throughout. The village has also almost doubled its proposed 2019-2020 budget for combating ticks, including more money to pay for staff to monitor and analyze the problem.
Chris Miller, a horticulturist who performs the tick monitoring work for North Haven, said the village has seen a reduction in ticks where it installed the 4-posters.
“Private landowners that have units on their property mentioned prior to the 4-posters that the deer’s neck and ears were loaded with ticks,” Mr. Miller said. “Now the deer are free of ticks. This is great news as the program is designed to control adult ticks on deer. Every adult will lay thousands of eggs; disrupting the life cycle is essential for tick population reduction.”
Beginning this season, he said, “We are going to begin an active tick surveillance and monitoring program in which we collect tick density numbers with the use of tick drags.”
A “tick drag” is a method of collecting tick specimens in which corduroy cloth is dragged through tall grasses or woods.
“We really want to put strong effort into this,” North Haven mayor Jeff Sander said during the March 12 village board meeting. “I’m pleased the county has placed North Haven as a key participant in this program.”
On Shelter Island, Beau Payne, the town’s animal control officer, said the town may spend as much as $100,000 on tick-related programs including 4-poster units, deer reduction, tick education, salaries for people to collect and monitor ticks and more. Mr. Payne said a 2017 survey of residents concluded 95 percent of respondents thought the island had a “tick problem.”
“Addressing tick-borne illness has been described as a ‘top priority’ by our town board for many years,” he said. As far as SuffolkSHARE goes, he said, Shelter Island “supports collaborative efforts to share ideas and expertise and as well as any effort to help develop cost-saving strategies. The partnership brings together a wide array of expertise and authority, which enhances the group’s ability to develop meaningful solutions.”