Lyme disease:Council asks Rell to cull deer herd

Maggie Caldwell

Sep 27, 2007
Lyme disease
Council asks Rell to cull deer herd
by MAGGIE CALDWELL
mcaldwell@thereddingpilot.com

Hoping to curtail the spread of Lyme disease, the Housatonic Valley Council of Elected Officials — spurred on by Redding’s first selectman — is urging the governor to set policies to reduce the state’s deer population.

First Selectman Natalie Ketcham, a former council chairman, drafted a letter to Gov. M Jodi Rell asking her to bring together the Department of Public Health (DPH) with the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to come up with a plan to address the deer overpopulation problem. Deer ticks, which commonly carry Lyme disease, are spread by the deer that wander through the state’s woodlands.

Citing the aggressive tactics taken to control the mosquito population to stop the spread of West Nile virus, Ms. Ketcham said the state should take similarly strong steps to combat Lyme disease.

“While I think there have been maybe five confirmed cases of West Nile in the past two years, recent reports have Lyme disease affecting more than 60,000 residents annually in Connecticut. So I thought that perhaps we should request that the governor bring her state agencies together to draft a plan to attack and, hopefully, eliminate Lyme disease from the state,” said Ms. Ketcham.

The disease has severe short-term and long-term consequences for those who contract it. Lyme disease can cause flu-like symptoms including fatigue, headache, fever and achy muscles and joints, according to the state Department of Public Health’s Web site. Untreated, it can cause arthritis, neurologic problems and heart problems.

Lyme disease, along with ehrlichiosis and babesiosis, which are similar tick-borne infections, are the dominant reportable diseases found in the town every year, said Doug Hartline, Redding’s health director.

In 2006, Redding sent 51 ticks to the state’s Agricultural Experiment Station for testing. Of those, 22 were tested and eight were positive for Lyme — a rate of 36.4%, according to state entomologist Dr. Kirby Stafford, who was interviewed by The Pilot earlier this year.

Statewide 4,855 deer ticks were sent in for testing last year. Of those, some 2,314 were tested and 520 carried Lyme disease.

“That’s a rate of about 22%,” said Dr. Stafford.

The town health department has been disseminating literature to educate homeowners about strategies they can use to groom their properties in a manner that is less enticing to deer. 

“Residents should keep their lawns cut low and take away any of the leaf litter. Creating a wood chip perimeter around your yard area also helps to lessen the quantity of ticks on your property,” said Mr. Hartline.

Deer aren’t the only carriers of ticks, however. Mice and chipmunks that thrive in stone walls and wood piles are also known to spread ticks. To keep their numbers down, Mr. Hartline suggests eliminating bird feeders and keeping wood piles away from the house. 

Still, deer are the major tick carriers and the towns in the state that have successfully controlled the herds have also quelled the spread of the disease.

Deer management alliance

The Fairfield County Deer Management Alliance, a consortium of 15 Fairfield County towns, is working to promote regional deer management. The group encourages towns to participate and become informed about the problems of excess deer and the methods commonly used to reduce deer population.

“We’re trying to inform people about the communities that have successfully reduced their deer population and have consequently successfully stopped Lyme disease,” said Georgina Scholl, Redding’s representative on the alliance.

Mumford Cove and Groton Long Point, communities located along the Connecticut coast, are examples of towns that have eliminated the Lyme disease problem through controlled hunts. Their methods are documented in the state DEP’s deer management brochure.

The alliance’s main goal is educate the public about the benefits of controlling the deer herd. The Housatonic Valley Council says that a “lack of factual information in the public realm is handicapping” the effort. 

The state DEP has been unable to make any “real inroads” in keeping down the deer numbers, “due to the lack of public understanding of the need to reduce the deer herd significantly,” the Housatonic Valley council says in the letter to the governor. 

“Public attitudes to our hunters are still focused on sport and they have yet to see hunters as our partners in the battle against Lyme disease and woodland destruction,” it continues.

The dilemma, the council members agree, is that neither the DPH nor the DEP regards the deer herd and the Lyme disease problem as under their jurisdiction. 

“The Department of Public Health recognizes that this is a public health threat, but feels that because it’s caused by a tick that is borne by deer, it more an issue for the DEP. And the DEP has taken the position that it’s really a public health threat and therefore in the province of Department of Public Health,” said Ms. Ketcham. “With this letter, we’re asking the governor to bring the two commissions together to formulate a plan.”

The letter was unanimously approved by the council last Friday and is set to be sent to the governor this week once the needed signatures are collected. 

Ms. Ketcham has also sent the letter to the council’s counterpart, the Southwestern Regional Planning Agency in lower Fairfield County.

Residents interested in obtaining more information about deer control may pick up the DEP’s deer management brochure, which is available at the health department, town hall, and the Mark Twain Library. 

Those who wish to open their lands to deer hunts may call the deer warden at 948-2844. 

© Copyright 2007 by Hersam Acorn Newspapers