The Bethlehem Deer and Tick Borne Disease Committee launched a new online survey for residents to provide further community input on the issue of the town’s deer population, along with the pests they carry.
The committee was formed following Town Supervisor John Clarkson’s recommendation after the issue was brought up by a number of residents while he and other officials were on the campaign trail. Residents were not only concerned about Lyme disease, but the number of traffic accidents that have been caused in town by deer. Others have been concerned that the larger numbers of deer are disturbing their gardens.
The committee was filled shortly after Clarkson mentioned its creation in his State of the Town address in January. Councilwoman Julie Sasso is the committee’s chairwoman.
“I think the survey will give us a general pulse on what the residents feel about the issue,” said Sasso.
The survey already has already had a great response. After being posted online Wednesday, Sept. 10, 500 residents had taken the survey by the following day. Sasso said a realistic goal was to get about 1,000 total responses, but she would like as many community members as possible to participate.
The committee will also hold a public hearing so residents can voice their concerns in person.
The survey’s questions vary from what methods a resident may have used to deter deer, if they’ve ever hit a deer while driving through town and if they would be in favor of the town looking into methods to reduce the deer and tick population.
Sasso announced the survey at the latest town board meeting on Sept. 10.
Councilman Bill Reinhardt asked if the committee is just working on how to reduce the spread of tick-borne illnesses like Lyme disease, or would also be addressing the large deer population.
“My wife and I grow a lot of our own food, and there is an annual battle over how much we get versus how much they get,” said Reinhardt, adding many residents have similar issues.
Sasso said both aspects would be addressed.
The committee has met once a month since March. During each meeting, experts have been asked to present on issues such as deer management, pest management, tick biology and the spread of tick-borne illnesses. Speakers have ranged from pest-control specialists, Department of Environmental Conservation officials, doctors specializing in infectious disease, the town’s animal control officer and members of the town’s garden club.
“We have a finite number of options,” said Sasso in a later interview. “We haven’t learned about some secret magic bullet to make it all better.”
Sasso said they have been presented both lethal and non-lethal options for both the deer and ticks.
DEC representatives said there are options to change the hunting season in Bethlehem if the state agency and town work together. The town could also coordinate with landowners to see if they would be willing to allow deer hunting on their property to help control the population. The humane society will give a presentation at the next meeting to discuss non-lethal options, which includes various forms of birth control.
As for the ticks, Sasso said there are some bait boxes that spray the deer with pesticide when they get close. There are also some proven landscape methods that reduce the likelihood of ticks infesting a person’s yard, or tick tubes, which are filled with nesting materials sprayed with pesticide. Mice then use the material and any pests they may carry are killed.
“Some have mentioned the use of Guinea hens,” said Sasso. “The problem is hens eat lots of everything, so they may eat the ticks, but they’ll eat the other bugs too. And some of those other bugs they like more.”
Sasso said the committee would collect the data from the survey, finish their meetings with experts and hold the public hearing before making their recommendations to the town board. She said the committee should have their recommendations ready by early spring.
Those looking to take the survey can do so on the town’s website. The Bethlehem Deer and Tick Borne Disease Committee typically meets the first Tuesday of each month at 6 p.m. at Town Hall.