Council urged to take action
Expressing frustration over what they felt were insufficient efforts in the culling of the island’s deer herd, and its direct link to the spread of Lyme disease, two island residents are urging the New Shoreham Town Council to step up its efforts to combat the deer tick related disease.
Marilyn Bogdanffy told the New Shoreham Town Council at its meeting on Jan. 16 that she thinks Lyme disease is “a serious problem” that should be made a priority by the council. The deer serve as hosts for deer tick larvae that feed on the deer and mature. The deer ticks then feed on pathogen-infected mammals, such as white-footed mice and birds, and then transmit disease when they bite humans.
“My sole purpose in being here tonight is to encourage the council to get involved in the Lyme disease problem,” said Bogdanffy, addressing the council during a priority goal setting discussion. “Nothing has worked substantially. The deer are coming back. And the Lyme disease is still a problem. People are getting really, really sick.”
Bogdanffy said that U.S. Fish & Wildlife and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management “would like to get involved, and said the ball is in our court. And I think our court should be handled by you.” The DEM introduced the deer herd to Block Island in the 1960s, and effectively owns it.
“We’ll keep working on it,” said First Warden Ken Lacoste. “We’ve worked with DEM, and gone through some trials and tribulations with them. It’s an ongoing concern, and not one that we’re forgetting about.”
Lacoste said the town’s annual deer tail program “has had some reasonable success, certainly not to the extent that it’s going to decimate the island’s deer population. We certainly must keep it on our radar, and keep our nose to the grindstone to deal with it.”
“I’m hoping that something more can be done,” said Bogdanffy. Seated beside her was resident Pat Doyle, who stressed the urgency, and concern for the issue, calling it a “public health crisis.”
“We continue to talk about it without making progress,” said Doyle, who noted that she served on the first Deer Task Force, “and came up with volumes of information” on the subject.
Doyle said that consultation with researchers, including Dr. Peter Krause of the Yale School of Medicine and Public Health, who conducts free Lyme disease testing annually on the island, indicated that the deer population should be maintained at “no more than 10 deer per square mile.”
“I think we continue to talk about it, however we really haven’t made that much progress,” said Doyle, who pointed out that “the last flyover, which was the most thorough one conducted by Fish and Wildlife in 2017” calculated 65 deer per square mile, an amount that has remained steady the past few years. “That is cause for a public health concern — a public health crisis.”
Doyle detailed the impact of Lyme disease, particularly on the island’s senior population, while Bogdanffy said her son contracted Lyme disease “years ago,” after visiting the island.
“The point is well taken,” said Lacoste. “You’ve certainly made the point. We need to keep on it.”
“I think you need to start again,” said Doyle. “We need to reduce the herd to 10 deer per square mile. We’re nowhere near that. So instead of talking about it, can we begin anew, and do something about it?”
“We can certainly try,” said Lacoste, “but it’s not as easy as saying, ‘Let’s do something about it.’ It’s not as simple as let’s try harder and we’ll get it done. We need to maybe start thinking out of the box, keeping it on our agenda, and the bottom line: we need more people to kill the deer. It’s as simple as that.”