Newtown Committee Votes to Reduce Deer Herd

Tick-Borne Disease Committee debates the merits of various deer and tick management methods.

By Hoa Nguyen

The majority of the Tick Borne Disease Committee has recommended the town organize and encourage controlled deer hunts, hire a sharpshooter, work with the Department of Environmental Protection on a deer management plan, use a chemical device to kill the ticks that feed off deer and survey the town population on their attitudes toward the deer population.

The committee, which is working to published a final report for the Board of Selectmen, met Wednesday night at the C.H. Booth Library to discuss and vote on the recommendations. Committee members were divided in voting on nearly all the items, finding only a few where they were unanimously.

In recent years, many communities across Fairfield County have embarked on controversial deer reduction programs as a way to reduce the incidence of tick-borne diseases that are spread by deer, prevent motor vehicles collisions with deer and help reduce deforestation due to deer overgrazing. Opponents have argued there are other ways to deal with tick-borne diseases that don’t involve killing deer.

On Wednesday, six members of the committee voted to recommend reducing the deer herd as part of a tick management plan while four voting against and one planned to vote by absentee ballot. The same voting ratio also favored controlled hunts and hiring a sharpshooter to kill deer.

In contrast, a recommendation to pursue nonlethal methods, including a limited experimental deer contraceptive program, and another to promote recreational hunting received split votes of five. Members who voted against the deer contraceptive program said it was highly experimental, limited to a small area and unlikely to affect the herd population while others said it was worth participating in a program that would cost the town $10,000.

Only one method – the use of 4-posters – received unanimous support though it was only after much discussion. The device, created by U.S. Department of Agriculture researchers, uses corn to lure deer and while the animals feast on the bait, they rub up against a roller that then administers a chemical onto their ears, head neck and shoulders. The chemical then works to kill ticks.

Studies have shown that the device is successful at killing deer tick, members said, though some were concerned the state Department of Environmental Protection won’t issue a permit for the use of 4-poster unless accompanied by hunting or other limitations.

Additionally the device is costly and no other town in the state is using the method to manage the tick population, committee member Kim Harrison said, adding that makes her question its effectiveness and whether Newtown should use it.

“Why isn’t any town in Connecticut using it,” she asked. “Maybe that is why the DEP is like ‘no-good.'”

Mason Island in Mystic is in fact using 4-poster but only as part of a research project involving the DEP because the agency wants more data on the product, according to Howard Kilpatrick, the state agency’s deer expert. Similar studies also are taking place in New York, he said, adding that questions remain regarding the effectiveness of 4-poster, including its effect on the deer population and incidence of Lyme disease, a potentially debilitating illness spread by ticks.

Some people have criticized the DEP for favoring hunting because of the revenue the state agency makes in issuing hunting permits. Some committee members said that the DEP is ignoring studies showing that the 4-poster is effective.

“To say that they are ignoring studies that show their effectiveness would show that in fact, they have a bias opinion,” committee chairman Michele McLeod said.

Committee members said the group should issue their recommendations separate from the DEP’s stance, and allow the town to deal with getting the necessary permits. They said they have looked at enough studies that show the product is effective.

“The DEP is flat out wrong,” Neil Chaudhary said. “If the department is wrong, that should not prevent us from voting for something that is effective…You can’t ignore the data. It’s there, it’s very strong and it’s a public health threat.”

While some members said they should recommend the use of 4-posters only in conjunction with hunting, others said they should vote separately on each method in case the town wants to pursue only one.

“I would rather have 4-poster alone than neither of them,” Chaudhary said. “I wouldn’t rather have one or the other, I want both. That said, I would take either over neither. When we vote on just one, we take the decision out of the town’s hands.”

The committee, which also voted on several other matters having to do with better forest management, has more work before it can submit its recommendations to the selectmen.

Should the Board of Selectmen accept the recommendations the Tick-Borne Disease Committee is suggesting?