Shelter Island Reporter, August 24, 2006

DEC will allow 4-poster project here
Pataki, responding to Carey’s request, asks state agency
to allow for a study of tick-killing device on Island

By Peter Boody

     In one stroke, Governor George Pataki has cleared the way for Shelter Island to deploy 4-poster deer-feeding stations to kill ticks, eliminating the need for what might have been a prolonged if not futile application process for a special permit.
     The governor’s move was the latest in a series of developments this summer that have turned a controversy that had been simmering for more than two years into a developing plan of action.
As a result of the governor’s order, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) last week informed Supervisor Alfred Kilb Jr. and town Deer and Tick Committee Chair Rae Lapides that it will allow Shelter Island to deploy the devices as part of “a comprehensive scientific study” — as Governor Pataki put it in a July 19 letter to Governor Hugh Carey, an Island resident — “to address the currently unanswered questions about the efficacy of the 4-poster tickicide system in reducing human incidence of Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases.”
     A copy of the letter to Governor Carey, who had written Governor Pataki in March urging him to allow Shelter Island to use the 4-poster, was made available on Monday by the DEC press office in Albany.

Turnaround for agency
     Since the DEC was asked in 2004 by Y-TEX Corporation of Cody, Wyoming to approve the pesticide solution it sells for the 4-poster, the agency has refused to authorize it for use in New York State, citing concerns about its active ingredient, permethrin, a common commercial pesticide widely available to consumers and in use since the 1970s (see sidebar, page 21). Another issue was chronic wasting disease, which the DEC said might be spread by deer congregating at 4-posters to feed on its corn bait.
     The DEC has made an exception only for a limited five-year 4-poster federally funded study conducted across several states including a site in Bedford, New York that used a different kind of pesticide. Otherwise the DEC remained adamant that the device would not be allowed in New York, making it the only one of 48 states that had been asked to approve it and did not do so, according to the 4-poster’s developers.
     The 4-poster applies a 10-percent oily permethrin solution to kill ticks on the heads and necks of deer as they feed on corn, which rely on deer as their primary hosts before egg laying and tend to congregate near the animals’ ears.

Call to Lapides
     News that the agency had made an abrupt shift and would allow for a study here — even without the usual permit application process — came on Friday, August 18, when Vincent A. Palmer, a DEC pesticide control specialist based at DEC regional headquarters in Stony Brook, called Ms. Lapides. The call was followed by a fax from him to her.
     “As we discussed during our telephone conversation this afternoon,” he wrote in the faxed letter to Ms. Lapides, “you and Dr. Scott Campbell,” also a member of the Deer and Tick Committee and an arthropod specialist with the county’s department of Health Services, “are invited to participate in an organizational meeting of key people who are involved with the comprehensive scientific study relating to the 4-poster deer treatment device.”
     The meeting, he wrote, will be on Wednesday, September 13 at the DEC’s Bureau of Marine Resources office in East Setauket.
     He listed 19 other people “who may join us at the meeting,” most of them DEC or state Department of Health officials. The chairperson of the Fire Island Wildlife Foundation was included because the DEC will also allow a 4-poster deployment on Fire Island, a DEC spokesperson confirmed on Monday.

Scully writes Kilb
     A letter to Shelter Island Town Supervisor Alfred Kilb Jr. from regional DEC Director Peter Scully, informing him of the new DEC policy, was dated August 17 with a copy to Ms. Lapides.
Mr. Scully wrote Mr. Kilb that the DEC “proposes to coordinate a comprehensive scientific study to address currently unanswered questions” about the 4-poster and its usefulness in reducing tick-borne illnesses. “The study also will document impacts on deer populations and behavior,” he wrote.
     He invited Mr. Kilb to attend the September 13 organizational meeting in East Setauket “to explore study design, regulatory issues and permit requirements.” He wrote that the “Department looks forward to working with you on this important initiative.”
Mr. Kilb commented in a phone interview on Monday, “I think the state has, through the DEC and the Department of Health, taken on the task of permitting or taking whatever legal requirements are involved” to allow the 4-poster to be deployed here. He said it appeared “the town doesn’t have to do a thing other than fund it or seek the funds” to pay for it.
     “I couldn’t believe it,” commented Ms. Lapides of the phone call she received Friday. “I was so excited.” She has been pushing for the town to deploy 4-posters to kill ticks since 2003, when an ad hoc citizens committee she organized urged a skeptical Town Board to support the idea. The board did not and still has not formally endorsed a 4-poster project but on July 18 — after board members sensed a groundswell of support for the 4-poster — four board members commented that they would support a 4-poster program.

Conflict with hunt?
     She asserted that the DEC official had told her that it was important that the deer population remain high for the 4-poster study because the device needs the deer to collect the ticks.
     It is designed to kill ticks that are clustered around the heads, ears and necks of deer — their primary hosts before egg-laying. She said the DEC official who had called her Friday had told her that the DEC did not want the town to proceed with the launch of its planned aggressive “nuisance” deer hunting program in October, which Police Chief James Read has been working to organize.
     Mr. Kilb also spoke by telephone with Vincent Palmer of the DEC last week. About Ms. Lapides’ assertion that the DEC did not want the hunt to proceed, Mr. Kilb said  “he did not indicate that.”
     Mr. Kilb made a similar comment about Ms. Lapides’ assertion when he addressed the Dering Harbor Village Board on Saturday, with Chief Read, about the nuisance hunt program.          
     Nevertheless, the Village Board voted 3-2 to delay any decision to participate in the hunt until after the September 13 meeting of state and town officials to develop a 4-poster plan.

Funding issues
     On another front, County Legislator Ed Romaine on Tuesday filed a bill before the County Legislature to provide county money to fund the 4-poster study, which the DEC will authorize and help oversee but the state will not pay for.
     The bill would juggle the county’s capital budget to allow it to raise $160,000 through the issuance of serial bonds for a project to be titled, “Tick Eradication Pilot Program on Shelter Island.”
     The bill will first have to be approved by the legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee, of which Mr. Romaine is a member.
     Earlier this month, when a town delegation visited the committee to plead for help with a 4-poster project, committee members seemed receptive to the idea that the Island was facing a serious public health crisis and needed assistance.
     But the committee chairman warned that there was no guarantee the legislature would approve a funding bill — which Mr. Romaine vowed to file — or that County Executive Steve Levy, who has been a stickler with the county budget, would sign it. Also, Mr. Romaine is a Republican and a Democratic coalition has control of the legislature.
     Even as Mr. Romaine seeks county funds, Ms. Lapides said efforts are underway to raise the money locally. Because of the speed at which the state is suddenly moving to authorize a project here and the fact that county money — even if it is approved — might not be available for months, she said having money on hand to buy and maintain the 4-posters had become “extremely important.”

4-poster placement, costs
     Ms. Lapides announced over a week ago that 4-poster supporters had organized a non-profit foundation to raise money to support the program and that it planned a fund-raiser at the American Legion Hall on Saturday, September 2 from 5 to 8 p.m. with food, cash bar, T-shirts, a raffle and opportunities for donors to underwrite individual 4-poster units.
     How many 4-posters the Island needs or can deploy will be a subject of debate at the September 13 organizational meeting in Setauket. Ms. Lapides said that Supervisor Kilb believes that the approved EPA label for the Y-TEX tickicide prevents 4-posters from being placed within 300 feet of a dwelling; she noted that the label actually prohibits it within 300 feet of a dwelling or any place “where children may be present without adult supervision.” If homeowners guarantee that children are not present or are never without supervision, a 4-poster can be placed nearby. If Mr. Kilb’s interpretation that only about 35-45 4-posters could be sited on the Island, she argued, there may not be enough to be truly effective in killing ticks.
     Studies conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which developed the 4-poster and licensed it to the American Lyme Disease Foundation, which markets it, suggest that over three years more than 90 percent of deer tick populations may be eliminated, according to Dr. Mat Pound, one of the USDA scientists who developed it more than a decade ago.
     He has said one 4-poster unit is needed for every 30-50 acres, depending on the size of the deer herd nearby.
     Mr. Romaine’s bill is predicated on funding 80 4-poster units, each of which costs $425 to buy and at least $560 a year to maintain and supply with pesticide and corn bait — more when deer populations are high, as they are on the Island. But Ms. Lapides said that, in a planning meeting she had with Mr. Kilb, he suggested there were no more than about 60 sites on public and private properties on the Island where the 4-poster could be placed; that was before the issue of the EPA labeling arose, shrinking the number to as few as 35.
     Ms. Lapides argued in an interview that at least 60 4-posters are needed for the program to be effective and estimated that the Island needed to raise $80,000 on its own to buy them and maintain them for the first year.