Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Rumor Mill

Here's the rumor:    Shelton supposedly has had several talks with White Buffalo and is ready to hire them to cull the deer population.  Also, something about a conspiracy between White Buffalo, the DEEP, the Connecticut Agriculture Experiment Stations, and various people involved with deer management.  The rumor appears to be getting passed along by hunters who are opposed to the CDC-funded study on integrated tick management in Redding (that study involves sharpshooting by White Buffalo in specific test plots). 

Here's the truth:  The City of Shelton has not talked with anyone from White Buffalo about culling deer in Shelton.  Also, it is extremely unlikely that the Deer Committee would recommend  sharpshooting any time soon.

The Deer Committee is in a fact-finding stage. We have had a series of guest speakers with great experience and expertise (see our minutes). The topic of sharpshooting has been discussed, but not within the context of Shelton actually hiring sharpshooters.    It is much more likely that the Committee will recommend an incremental approach to deer management, starting with opening a small number of city open space properties to bow hunting.

It's also important to note that the Deer Committee is advisory only and has no authority to implement any sort of deer control. The Committee was created with the goal of exploring the deer issue and drafting a report to the Board of Aldermen with recommendation, and that is all it is authorized to do. 

[Update June 2014:  The rumor is now that Shelton has received a grant to start sharpshooting deer. This is completely false. No committee member has voiced any support to start sharpshooting, and there are no grants even available for such a thing that we know of.  The "Redding grant" often referenced by hunters was not a grant to the municipality as many hunters are asserting. Rather, it was from the CDC for a study conducted by Kirby Stafford of the CT Agricultural Experiment Station.  The study involves sharpshooting as well as pesticide approaches that are less toxic than those currently in use.]

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

All About Ticks

The Deer Committee welcomed guest speaker Kirby Stafford from the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station to get a better understanding of tick-borne diseases in Connecticut, and the role that deer play in the disease rates.

The focus was on Lyme Disease, although there are several other illnesses transmitted by the Deer Tick (aka Black Legged Tick).  Mr. Stafford noted that evidence of Lyme Disease was detected in the 5,000-year-old "Ice Man."  In the 1800's, when New England was cleared for agriculture and deer nearly eradicated, ticks became very rare except in some isolated areas, such as the tip of Long Island and some islands. There was an ailment at the time called "Montauk's Knee" or "Montauk Spider Bite," that was probably Lyme Disease.

Opponents of deer control will often point out that ticks do not pick up Lyme Disease from deer, which is true.  The disease is acquired from other animals, usually mice, chipmunks, and certain species of birds. 

However, ticks do need a certain deer density to reproduce and lay eggs.  Adult ticks must feed on a large mammal, usually a deer, before they can reproduce. How many deer are needed? Mr. Stafford said the various studies and computer simulations all seemed to point to a density threshold of 8-12 deer per square mile at which the tick population (and Lyme Disease rates) significantly falls. Recreational hunting in the suburbs can only bring deer down to about 30 deer per square mile. Although recreational hunting can significantly improve forest ecology, and reduce landscaping damage and vehicular accidents, any impact in Lyme Disease rates would probably be modest. In order for deer control to seriously reduce the incident of Lyme Disease, "controlled hunts" (professional sharpshooting) need to be implemented in order to reduce the number of deer to 8-12 deer per square mile.

In Redding, a study is underway that involves significant deer reduction within a couple one-mile plots.  Interestingly, it was hunters who protested the sharpshooting study rather than animal-rights groups.

The tick-epidemic has resulted in many families "treating" their yards for ticks. The Deer Committee heard about some yard tick treatments that are both effective and environmentally-friendly, including the use of bait boxes for mice. There are no yard sprays that kill only ticks. Most sprays currently used are pyrethrin or pyrethroid-based, and these target all insects (including good insects) and are toxic to aquatic wildlife. Mice go into baitboxes for a treat and rub up against some insecticide that kills any ticks they may be carrying.   There is a biocide spray that consists of a naturally-occurring fungus that is effective. This spray does kill some other types of insects but not most beneficial species.