Deer Report, Nearly 3 Years in the Making, is Released

The Tick-Borne Disease Action Committee has issued its long awaited report to the Board of Selectmen.

After two and a half years of weekly meetings, the nine-member Tick Borne Disease Action Committee has wrapped up its work with a 90-page final report, several hundred pages of supporting documentation and a so-called minority report written by four members who disagree with some of the group's overall recommendations, namely the ones to kill deer.

"I feel we produced a report that I'm personally proud to have my name on," said Michele McLeod, one of the co-chairmen of the committee.

The final product is perhaps the most exhaustive municipally produced report on the issue of tick-borne diseases.

“You’ve created a new standard,” First Selectman Pat Llodra said of the report and thick binder of supporting documentation during Monday's Board of Selectmen meeting. “It’s outstanding.”

Newtown has the highest reported incidence per population of Lyme disease in Fairfield County, accoridng to the committee, which received the data from state public health officials.

The committee, chaired by McLeod, a pediatric opthamologist, and Robert Grossman, a state medical examiner, was formed in 2009 and initially expected to wrap its work in six months. Membership in the committee was comprised of Newtown residents, several with advanced degrees who work as doctors, transportation researchers, attorney, professor and in other fields.

But the months soon turned into years as they devoted hundreds of hours into taking an exhaustive look at defining the problem of tick-borne diseases, including its history; medical implications to humans; connection between deer and ticks; impact of deer on the environment; deer and vehicle crashes; public information strategies; municipal management options; Lyme disease vaccine; and performance metrics.

“I do think you have the definitive document on this by far,” committee Peter Licht said.

Though the scope of work was broad, the one area sure to draw the most attention had to do with the contentious recommendations to kill deer, which the committee passed in a divided vote. The report lists vote outcomes of each recommendation and while, in general, many of the recommendations were unanimously endorsed, the ones having to do with lethal deer-related methods were split.

The majority of the committee recommended Newtown reduce its deer population by promoting recreational hunting, implementing controlled hunts on town-owned property, encouraging controlled hunts on private property, hiring professional sharpshooters and encouraging property owners to open their lands to hunters, sharpshooters and.

The members who opposed those recommendations took the additional step of producing a separate report that described their dissenting opinion, which was that deer culls would be ineffective at combating tick-borne diseases and would detract from other methods.

“If you are spending your time focused on deer, you are less likely to spend it on other things,” committee member Mark Alexander said.

Many communities grapple with the same issues, with some deer experts saying that a deer density of 20 per square mile would reduce the incidence of Lyme disease while others argue that low density would be difficult to achieve or practically unattainable.

In some areas of Newtown, deer density has been determined to be about 70 to 105 deer per square mile, according to the committee.

Members acknowledged the controversy surrounding the killing of deer, although they also urged the public to read the other sections of the document.

“There is a lot of great ideas in this document that aren’t just about deer,” committee member Neil Chaudhary said. “Make sure they read the other sections too. There’s a lot of important sections including the role of deer.”

While the selectmen spent time reviewing the document, the board will not make any recommendations for next steps until after the election at which point committee members will likely be invited back for input on those next steps, Llodra said.

"I don't think we can go onto those next steps without calling on you more," she told the committee.

Other committee members involved in the effort were Kirk Blanchard, David Delia, Mary Gaudet-Wilson, Kim Harrison, George Miller and Maggie Shaw. Many others also contributed in the form of support staff, particularly Patrice Boily and David Shugarts.

dave October 19, 2011 at 01:39 AM
Let's see.....Reduce the # of these land mine droppers, or just keep my fingers crossed that my kids won't happen upon a landmine while playing outside. Pretty clear to me...hunters welcome near my house. Call for appointment. I love nature and the woods and animals too. But after seeing people I care about suffer thru the pain of Chronic Lyme disease...the kind that steals years of their young lives from them, I will do everything I can to protect them/us.....including eliminating as many carriers of these little time bombs as possible. A nice byproduct will be healthier woods that contain native trees and all of the wildlife they invite....the way they used to be.
G October 19, 2011 at 02:12 AM
dave reports: 9:39pm on Tuesday, October 18, 2011 - "A nice byproduct will be healthier woods that contain native trees and all of the wildlife they invite....the way they used to be." Except the deer, of course. I guess they're not invited into dave's world. Problem is, the ticks will just find another host. While we're out killing the deer, perhaps we should also eliminate all the squirrels, raccoons, skunks, bears, moose, birds and every other living thing that has the nerve to enter "our space". If we follow this logic, I am affected by allergies in the spring, summer and fall. Perhaps we should cut down all the trees that create pollen and pave our yards with asphalt. Or maybe we just try to live with it and find other control measures without having to kill the wildlife for our own convenience.. This is not New York City. If you can't live with nature, perhaps Newtown is not the best place for you to live.
dave October 19, 2011 at 02:43 AM
Oh boy. I guess I have to explain further. What is being discussed is reducing the deer population to levels that are healthy (not eliminating them)....levels healthy to humans, healthy to forests and healthy to themselves.....which is the way it used to be (their numbers were few in CT 100 years ago.....and there was no Lyme disease then). I'm not going to engage further in what is obviously an emotional issue. Again, for me, it is quite simple. The health of my human friends and family comes first. Period. And I'm certain that those who've had to do the research because their loved ones suffer from Chronic Lyme feel similarly. The scientific consensus is that 90% of ticks capable of reproduction feed on deer. The committee has done a great job at surfacing this data (see pages 14-16), and I commend them and thank them for all of their hard work on this very real problem.
Mike Kelley October 19, 2011 at 02:46 AM
Having been born and raised in the woods of upstate NY, (Horseheads) and a hunter since it was legal back then, I have no problem with thinning the herd. I have six- 10 in my yard every night under the apple trees year round.I have not hunted in CT since moving here, 26 years ago.My choice and no place to do it. One thing I do know, that Chemung County NY (20 times the area of Newtown) does not have anywhere the incidence of Lymes Disease that the geographicl area of Newtown CT has. Is the answer to thin the herd? Yes in my opinion. I give my permission to thin in my yard if allowed.
G October 19, 2011 at 03:17 AM
dave- I'm not sure where this report is, so perhaps I'm speaking from ignorance, but shouldn't we be attacking the ticks? It seems to me that deer are the 2nd or 3rd level of carrying this disease. If we kill the deer, we'll still have the disease-carrying mice. If we kill the mice, we'll still have the disease-carrying ticks. Killing the deer is like killing the messenger's messenger, and will not alleviate the spread of this disease. It will only kill the deer in Newtown and leave a bountiful ecosystem for deer from other areas. Perhaps if Newtown were an island that would be a solution, but deer culling in Newtown is a temporary solution at best. I have Chronic Lyme disease (is there any other kind?), but killing the deer that got the tick from some mouse will do nothing to stop the spread of this disease.
G October 19, 2011 at 03:29 AM
Mike, I don't mean to belittle your opinion (well, maybe a little :-) ) but we're talking about Newtown here, not upstate NY. Montana, Idaho, Nevada, Kansas, Arizona, New Mexico and other states are many more times the size of upstate NY, much less Newtown, CT, and they have zero reported cases of Lyme disease. My guess is that they all have deer that are native to the area. Perhaps they just have a lower tick population?
dave October 19, 2011 at 03:31 AM
G - The PDF of the report is available above and to the right of this article. Click on the first PDF to learn more about the issue and the scientific evidence. There are varying degrees of Lyme and the other co-infections that can ride along with it. In some cases, the symptoms are relatively mild and can be cured with a few weeks of standard antibiotics. The lawmakers and insurance companies that get to decide which diseases get researched and how they treated, they have declared that there is no such thing as chronic Lyme disease. But ask the people who've been impacted by the serious and the long term symptoms, the former athletes who can no longer walk, those who can't go to school or even get out of bed due to the pain and other symptoms, those who sometimes need a year or more of aggressive IV antibiotic treatment before they begin the long road to recovery, or those that never fully recover, and they will tell you all about Chronic Lyme disease.
dave October 19, 2011 at 03:46 AM
G - Lyme is spreading, fast. There are only a few states that haven't reported it yet. It is spreading because the ticks that carry it are spreading. They are spreading because......drumroll please.....yep....because deer are carrying them over long distances!! There is data available here: http://www.cdc.gov/lyme/stats/chartstables/reportedcases_statelocality.html I strongly recommend that anyone who wants to learn more about the serious nature of this problem check out www.underourskin.com
G October 19, 2011 at 05:10 AM
Thanks for showing me the way to the report, dave. Very interesting, although I could only manage to make it through the first 40 pages or so for tonight. Up to that point, it appears that the report indicates that there is no valid scientific evidence that deer culling would have any significant impact on the incidences of Lyme disease in Newtown, I'm paraphrasing of course, but apparently it's not possible in Newtown to reduce the deer population enough to make a difference in the number of cases of Lyme disease in this town. I would encourage readers to also read the second PDF listed above to read the opinion of the committee members who disagree with the findings of the report regarding deer culling in Newtown.
Chris October 19, 2011 at 06:49 AM
I just got done writing and article about this earlier today. The science that I have read states that deer populations have zero effect on the nymph density according to a 13 year research study. I agree with G, it's all the other animals your going to have to worry about. Get ready to start culling anything that breathes. Although it is referred to as the "deer tick", culling the deer population is misguided (in my humble opinion). Number one determinant in one study was......(drum roll), the chipmunk! It gets even more interesting, in the same study, the greatest predictor of nymph density was based on (drum roll)......Acorns! More than temperature, rainfall, deer population or anything else, the number one predictor was the Acorn harvest. The computer models could then predict nymph density better than any other model. (hmmm, think mice, squirrels and chipmunks) During the course of the study, the deer population increased three fold, with zero increase in tick density. It would stand to reason then, that an identical reduction in deer would have the same impact. In another sorta study (it was done by a pesticide company, not peer reviewed), it showed a tremendous reduction in both tick population and spirochete infection of that population when (drum roll)...........field mice bedding was inoculated with a tick insecticide. You can read about it here: http://inthegut.com/content.php?183-Acorns-Falling-from-a-Tree-A-Predictor-of-Lymes-Diagnosis
Kitten Associates October 19, 2011 at 01:48 PM
I sat in on a committee meeting and I believe they were saying it would be 18 YEARS of hunting for the cull to be effective! The problem with this "study" is that our town will have spent a great deal of money-and for what? Chasing after an impossible to reach goal? The most important factor that was overlooked is the consideration of what will happen over those years to our town. Odds are the human population will grow, then the number per square mile of deer has to go down, even further. That target density number will have to adjust and they'll have to kill more and more deer every year. If that happens, the target will NEVER be reached. Also, there's no forward thinking about what happens if there's a cure for Lyme Disease in 5 or 10 years, or better treatments or ways to reduce the deer population through a new kind of deer contraception? You can spend all the time you want debating this but the bottom line is when you mess with one species, you're going to get a whole host of other, unforeseen problems on top of it. I'd rather see all that money go to truly making it "Nicer in Newtown", more lyme disease education and cutting our heavy tax burden. In this economy we need to be extremely thoughtful about how the taxpayers are going to foot the bill for this.
Nellie October 19, 2011 at 02:54 PM
Thank you to the committee for their time and hard work in putting together this report for Newtown! I have 2 daughters who have been affected by Lymes disease and coinfections. My youngest had her 1st tick at 13 months, and at least 8 more in the years to follow. She didn't go in the woods to get them.... just had to step off of the front steps - we were infested (thank God for Tick Ranger). When she was 2 we started suspecting lymes disease and even after one of the ticks on her tested +, her pediatrician advised us to look for bullseye rashes or knee swelling - none of which happened. She wasn't tested for another year and 1/2 and without a + test nothing could be done for her. When she was 5 her symptoms EXPOLDED. It was hard seeing her ghost white, malnourished, in pain and exhausted, but it was devasting to see such a young girl forget where she was when at school, have panick attacks, major fears and anxiety, severe night terrors every night, such painful skin that her clothes hurt her, regress in reading and writing, twitching uncontrollably and too many other issues to list here. She had a complete physical, psychological and social meltdown. To make matters worse, our local medical community would do nothing to help... after 2 pediatricians, a neurologist and psychologist... we were forced to see an expensive specialist (and were dropped by our pediatrician for doing so).
dave October 19, 2011 at 02:56 PM
This is why there is an aggressive year-round effort to reduce the number of rodents on my property Chris. There is no one solution, or species that can be targeted in the battle against Lyme. I'm not sure why so much attention and energy gets focused on the deer element, other than the fact that people enjoy seeing them out in their yards despite how skinny they look as they eat all of their shrubs and carry all of those adult ticks that are capable of producing the nymphs into the areas where their kids play. Like life, there is an entire cycle to Lyme disease that must be addressed...it's a complex and large problem, and everyone should stay focused on the goal.
Ellen Parker October 19, 2011 at 02:57 PM
This reporter has supplied the deer numbers provided by the DEEP's aerial surveys -- in the case of Newtown estimated at 70 to 105 deer per square mile. But I am wondering whether the Deer Committee or the selectmen carefully reviewed a study done by the Swivel Machine Works company in Newtown. This well documented study includes a comprehensive deer count done by that company, which shows that the number of deer in town is currently only half of what the DEEP claims, and furthermore that deer numbers have been significantly declining for some years now. Before the entire town becomes incited into a deer elimination frenzy, it is important to recognize that the DEEP always comes up with wildly inflated deer numbers in order to rationalize its mission to reverse the decline in the number of hunters, and thereby try to get license revenues resuscitated.
Nellie October 19, 2011 at 03:04 PM
(Had to continue under another post...my comment was too long). I am an extreme animal lover and gun hater, but in this case I'm all for reducing the deer to control the disease(s) - although I think it will be difficult to implement in Newtown. One deer can have hundreds of ticks at a time. Deer give them an enormous feeding and breeding ground...something mice and birds can't do. Deer culling is not new to our state and is in fact done by many surrounding towns. If the medical community can not help treat the disease effectively, then we need to do something to reduce the chances of it spreading. I would not wish what my daughters and our family went through on anyone, and until you've had a loved one struggle with late stage lyme disease and the difficulty of getting treatment, it is hard to see from my piont of view. Thanks again to the committee!
dave October 19, 2011 at 03:05 PM
Nellie, I can relate to your story and hope that your kids are better. We have been thru similar experiences as have some close friends. Thankfully, there are people like Dr. Jones in New Haven to save these kids lives, as our government, insurance companies and the medical establishment don't seem interested in doing. Thank you for sharing your experience with Lyme and other tick borne diseases. Let's hope that the number of people who have to suffer like you and your kids is have is kept to a minimum in the time it takes the people of Newtown to implement the committee's recommendations.
Newtown4 October 19, 2011 at 04:42 PM
There are way too many deer in this town. I hate hunting, but there are just too many deer. I can barely drive on any street in Newtown after 5pm without seeing one on or near the road. And, sadly, my son was just diagnosed with lyme last Friday after three weeks of on and off fever and chills and sore throat--took them so long to figure out what it was because he didn't have the rash! I say we cull a bit and see if it helps.
dave October 19, 2011 at 04:50 PM
Sorry to hear about your son. If you haven't already, please make an appointment with Dr. Jones in New Haven. Your regular doctor won't support you and insurance might not pay, but it takes weeks or even months to get on his calendar. You can always cancel the appointment if you are lucky enough to have caught this early enough. But the regular docs are really ignorant to the disease (as evidenced by how long it took them to diagnose your son). There are often co-infections that go undetected, so at least ask Dr. Jones to prescribe the specialized lab work needed to determine whether or not those are present without delay. Important to be aggressive in treating this.... Good luck.
Mike Gorfinkle October 19, 2011 at 05:01 PM
Nellie, you evidently don't understand the life cycle of the black-legged tick. Go back and see the picture on page 6 of Chapter 2. It is a two year cycle of which the adult tick stays on a deer for only five to seven days. All types of mammals including humans can host an adult tick for its blood meal. But, deer do not get infected nor do they infect anything because they are reservoir incompetent. That means that the deer immune system seeks and destroys the Lyme bacteria, B. burgdorfi. By the way, scientists are studying this phenomenon and once they understand it, IMHO, Lyme disease will be obsolete. Dr. Richard Ostfeld, Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, has demonstrated that it's mice, not deer that are the culprit. See http://www.ecostudies.org/press_2010-11-10.html. Unfortunately, the majority of the task force refused to accept Ostfeld's peer-reviewed science, still hanging on to the misconception that killing deer would eliminate LD.
Nellie October 19, 2011 at 07:01 PM
Mike - evidently I do understand the life cycle of the black legged tick, as do I understand the reports that deer are not carriers of Lyme disease. But just as Richard Ostfeld states "superabundant mouse populations allow more ticks to survive", the same holds true for a superabundant deer population - a hundred fold. Wouldn't reducing the number of deer also reduce the number of ticks that can then feed on infected animals? I am certainly not campaigning for deer culling, but if there is even the slightest chance that it could help I will support it. I am glad scientists are studying the fact that deer don't get infected - I have wondered myself why this couldnt
Nellie October 19, 2011 at 07:03 PM
Sorry.... I have wondered myself why this couldn't / wasn't being done.
Mike Gorfinkle October 19, 2011 at 07:16 PM
Nellie, what is your scientific evidence that "the same holds true for a superabundant deer population "? Haven't you read the remarks of the original scientist who co-authored the research paper that the "deer are the cause" people erroneously quote? She refuted that - "...killing deer won’t do the job". See http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/features/features/kiling-deer-not-answer-reducing-lyme-disease.html.
Sharon Emerson October 19, 2011 at 11:34 PM
For all you you out there not yet affected in some way by Lyme disease I think you will change your story regarding culling of deer once you have a loved one nearly die from that debilitating disease. My husband went undiagnosed for six months because most doctors are incredibly ignorant about the condition even when I asked that he be tested for Lyme. They ignored my pleas, said I was overreacting. Guess I wasn't over-reacting when he fell in the driveway; couldn't walk and couldn't speak and his face a mess due to Bell's Palsey. I literally lifted him into the car and took him to the be tested for Lyme. They relented an did a lumbar puncture and several other tests - He was teeming with the Lyme bacteria. My husband was in the hospital for a month, couldn't walk for a year, and suffers permanent brain damage. He is a shadow of his former vigorous self in that he now walks with a cane, suffers grand Mal seizures due to the devastation of the Lyme bacteria on his brain. He will be on seizure medication for the rest of his life. I live on seventeen acres of land and welcome and encourage hunters every season to cull the deer on my property.
Sharon Emerson October 19, 2011 at 11:50 PM
I also kill white-footed mice which are a notorious carriers of the disease. I am sure the deer lovers would think nothing of killing a passel of disease carrying rodents invading their homes. If you want to protect all things in nature, then don't kill the mice in your home. Just let them run all around your home and spread disease - no difference.
Douglas Brennan October 23, 2011 at 07:16 PM
Last year I contacted the state when we were overrun by more then 50 deer coming down the mountain each morning. This year I plan to have them eliminated. Too many for too long carrying diseases and destoying the environment for other wildlife.
Mike Kelley October 23, 2011 at 09:56 PM
Doug . I can give you the name of a good friend who if you want to call him; will take care of the problem legally. If you so choose; he will also donate venison so that I can continue to send venison jerky to our troops as I have been doing for 10 years. Call me if you are interested.
Alex Tytler October 23, 2011 at 10:47 PM
Doug, How many would you like removed? A group I hunt with has a cull drive every year on a piece of property in lower fairfield county. Last year we killed 14 in one day. The problem is that property is surrounded by unhuntable ground, so the 14 we remove get replaced fairly quickly. If you have quality habitat, the deer will leave poorer ground to fill it.
Sharon Emerson October 24, 2011 at 01:02 AM
To Kitten Associates: Your comment "when you mess with one species you're going to get a whole host of other, unforseen problems on top of it. Overbuilding in Newtown messed with a species and is now reaping what it sowed. A host of other, unforseen (but predictable) serious problems.
Sharon Emerson October 24, 2011 at 03:20 AM
I whole-heatedly agree, Douglas.
Sharon Emerson October 24, 2011 at 03:24 AM
Meant whole-heartedly agree - not whole heatedly. Time for bed.


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