North Haven Counts Ticks to Assess Its 4-Poster Deer Feeding Stations

Chris Miller with a 4-poster feeding station in North Haven Manor. Peter Boody Photo

The Village of North Haven this season is working to establish a database to prove the effectiveness of its 4-poster program to kill ticks and reduce the incidence of tick-borne illnesses on the 2.7-square-mile peninsula between Shelter Island and Sag Harbor.

Meanwhile, anecdotal evidence suggests the four posters have been working. Highway Department personnel say they are seeing significantly fewer ticks on the deer they pick up after having been struck by vehicles on local roads. Residents also have reported fewer run-ins with ticks, according to a village report on its 4-poster program to the state DEC.

Told about a Woodland Drive resident who said he rarely sees ticks any more but used to come down with Lyme disease almost every summer and pull ticks off his dog every day, North Haven’s Mayor Jeff Sander this week agreed that things seem better. He has three dogs and no longer has to pull ticks off them every time he takes them for walks, he said.

In conjunction with an annual bow hunt to reduce the deer population, which Mr. Sander thinks may be the most effective strategy for reducing ticks, the village has been deploying about 12 4-posters on public and private properties since 2015. Just this spring, it ordered six more units at a cost of about $500 each. Fifteen of them are now deployed while sites are found to deploy the remaining three units.

The devices, developed by United States Department of Agriculture scientists in the early 1990s to stop an outbreak of babesiosis on Texas cattle, have four vertically mounted paint rollers that apply a 10-percent solution of permethrin tickicide to the heads and necks of deer as they feed on corn. Deer are the primary host for adult deer or black-legged ticks, which carry Lyme disease, babesiosis and Ehrlichiosis and other diseases and concentrate around the animals’ ears and necks.

“Honestly, we fell short” in the effort to conduct regular, scientifically controlled tick drags at specific sites, said Chris Miller of Sag Harbor, a horticulturalist who is the village’s designated agent for obtaining the annual state DEC permit for, and managing, the 4-poster program.

North Haven budgeted $120,000 for its 4-poster deployment this year or roughly six percent of its annual budget. It boosted spending on the program this year, in part, to pay for Mr. Miller to conduct the tick drags.

“This year,” he said in an interview, “we will have active tick-surveillance with Beau Payne,” who manages the 4-poster program on Shelter Island, the only other East End municipality that has an active 4-poster program. By conducting tick drags at the same time that Mr. Payne does on Shelter Island, Mr. Miller said he can control for weather trends that might affect results.

Mr. Miller said last week it’s too early to draw any conclusions from the tick drags he conducted last week at seven locations, except to say he definitely found more ticks near one of the newly deployed 4-posters compared to the numbers he’s finding near those that have been in place since 2015. He said he will conduct drags again in the fall at the same seven sites to determine the seasonal trend.

Because adult ticks have a two- to three-year life cycle, it takes three years before the effectiveness of a 4-poster program becomes fully evident. They also must be deployed by the early spring and kept in place through late fall; and carefully maintained and monitored, particularly for corn consumption, which determine when the rollers must be recharged with permethrin solution. Clogged or damaged devices, or deployment too late in the season or removal too early, can dramatically limit their effectiveness.

The state DEC used to prohibit 4-posters in New York and now allows only municipalities and government entities to obtain licenses to deploy them. It was resistant to their use because baiting deer can spread communicable diseases in the herd, and also because the EPA had not labeled permethrin to allow for its use in 4-posters.

The DEC initially rejected calls from some Shelter Islanders to allow the town to deploy 4-posters there to test their effectiveness in the face of what they called a public health crisis. The DEC agreed only after former Governor Hugh Carey, an Island resident, called on then-Governor George Pataki to order the DEC to allow the study.

In a $1.6-million study funded by the state, county, town and other sources, 60 4-posters were deployed around the Island for five years in an experiment conducted by the Cornell Cooperative Extension with Suffolk County and DEC oversight. After the study, a member of the town’s Deer and Tick Committee declared hyperbolically that Shelter Island was “tick free.” A report on the study, released by the state DEC in 2011, did find the 4-poster deployment had been highly effective in dramatically reducing the tick population.

Shelter Island maintains its own locally funded 4-poster program but with only 15 units. Each one is believed to be effective within a 40-acre area.

North Haven’s previous mayor, Laura Nolan, and the rest of the Village Board resisted calls to deploy 4-posters in the village, which has a population of less than 900. When Mr. Sander became mayor upon her resignation in 2013, he was far more open to the idea and eventually convinced the Village Board to pay for a 4-poster program. Until this year, the annual budget was $54,000.

Despite his support for the 4-poster program, Mr. Sander said this week he was particularly inspired by the results of a deer hunt on Ram Island, a peninsula like North Haven that extends off the east side of Shelter Island. He said he had been told by the president of the Ram Island Association that all the deer in the area had been eliminated and that, in turn, had eliminated the ticks.