2013-11-14 / News

Conservationists split on whether deer cull will eliminate Lyme

By Margo Sullivan

The Conservation Commission on Tuesday voted to send a letter and appear at the Town Council meeting on Nov. 18 to express their concerns about information on the Tick Task Force’s website advocating use of the pesticide permethrin to kill ticks.

Chairwoman Maureen Coleman told the commissioners at their Nov. 12 meeting that the task force’s website fails to mention the risks associated with the chemical. Previously, the commissioners discussed how to contact the task force on this matter and agreed Coleman should brief them by email.

She did so, but the email is not going to be sufficient, she said. The councilors are seeking a formal statement from the commission.

“They asked us to come to consensus,” she said. According to Coleman, Councilor Gene Mihaly, who is leading the Tick Task Force, is citing a dispute in the scientific community about the dangers of permethrin.

Coleman compared the situation to the debate over global warming but added she personally has never seen a scientific opinion saying the chemical does not pose a risk.

“There’s definitely a risk associated with it,” said Commissioner Anne Kuhn-Hines. She pointed to two studies. One was conducted in Connecticut, and the other took place in Baltimore.

There was a huge reduction in ticks reported when lawns were sprayed with permethrin, she said. However, there was no decrease in the number of Lyme disease cases.

Coleman reported similar studies about deer culls, which resulted in reducing the number of deer and ticks, but not the number of Lyme cases.

In responding to Milhaly’s claims about permethrin, the commissioners are at a disadvantage because they do not know his sources. However, the Environmental Protection Agency has published a fact sheet about permethrin, with proof the chemical is harmful to bees and to marine life.

“All we’re asking is the town’s educational materials include that information about risks,” Coleman said, adding that she would take issue with any plan to treat town property and schools with permethrin.

“I would object to that,” she said.

Kuhn-Hines said she disagrees with the information on the task force site about applying the chemical to plants and lawns. That’s a bad idea, she said, because children might be playing in the leaves and be exposed to the chemical.

“Yes, we have problems with that,” Commissioner Mike Brown agreed.

Coleman said the commissioners should make sure town officials understand the risk to marine life.

“With that level of risk, our town’s educational materials should say what the risk is,” she said. Certainly, if people use permethrin, they shouldn’t spray this chemical near the water. The chemical is also toxic to cats, she said.

Jamestown resident Sav Rebecchi said cats are probably not part of the commission’s charge, but Brown joked that feral cats could qualify as wildlife.

In a related matter, Commissioner Ted Smayda asked if the task force has communicated with officials on Block Island where a deer cull is being planned.

Smayda said later he favors killing the deer, but Commissioner Patrick Driscoll said he wants to hear the specific proposal.

“I’m concerned the consensus is, ‘Let’s wipe out the deer as an ongoing process to try and find a solution,’” he said.

Deer management is one thing, Driscoll said, but the Tick Task Force is talking about managing Lyme disease.

“Do we want to weigh in?” Coleman asked.

“I’m not convinced the deer are the root of the problem,” Driscoll said.

Smayda disagreed. “If the herd isn’t culled, the pathogens are going to do it,” he said. “Either disease is going to catch you, or bullets and bows. If we wait for bullets, more and more people are going to get sick.”

Coleman asked Driscoll if he opposes a deer cull.

Driscoll said he would prefer to wait before he took a stand.

“I don’t know what their plan is,” he said “It’s important to manage the deer population so there’s not too many deer. But I’m a little concerned about a drastic reduction in the deer population based on the hypothesis that it will solve our problem with Lyme.”

The committee was divided about a deer cull, although the majority said they were either in favor of a cull or would not oppose killing deer.

Commissioner George Souza said he does not have any “hard evidence one way or another whether culling the herd would reduce disease.”

“From a common sense standpoint, it would be worth a try,” he said.

Coleman did not have philosophical objections to a deer cull, but would want assurances “it would work and would be done humanely.”

Commissioner Michael Brown said the island’s “overrun” with deer and he would not be opposed to a cull, and Kuhn-Hines agreed.

On the other hand, Commissioner Kate Smith was opposed.

“Some of my best friends are deer,” she said.

In other news, the state Department of Environmental Management has approved Jamestown’s application to build a bike path that would run in part along the reservoir property, according to Smith.

Smith told the Conservation Commission she received a notice on Tuesday. As a result, the Bike Path Design Committee, which had suspended meetings while the permit application was underway, will meet again in January.

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