Debate Over Deer and Disease Breaks Out at North Caldwell Council Meeting

Council establishes Lyme Disease Task Force while area residents criticize county efforts to control deer population.

What started out as Mayor Joseph Alessi's introduction of a new, volunteer task force quickly turned into a forum for criticism of countywide at North Caldwell's Council meeting Tuesday night.

Laura Ostheimer, a resident of North Caldwell for 27 years, proposed a Lyme Disease Task Force to Alessi after contracting the disease last year. While Ostheimer's own children are grown, she said she is concerned about the deer milling around the playgrounds at the town's two elementary schools,  and .

"This is not about killing deer," said Ostheimer, chairperson of the task force, in response to advocates speaking out against deer hunts. "This is about their increasing population and the quality of life," she added.

Alessi, who at one point banged his gavel to enforce control, explained the purpose of the meeting was to introduce the task force and solicit volunteers who would study all options for controlling deer. 

"This is not a debate," the mayor said.

Ostheimer said she has four deer living on her North Caldwell property.

"I have not been on my deck or opened my grill this summer," said Ostheimer, adding she knows 22 people who have Lyme disease, which in New Jersey is most often contracted by deer ticks.

If left untreated, Lyme disease can lead to several symptoms that may become severe, including tiredness, muscle aches and joint pain, according to the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services. (see attached PDF).

Ostheimer received her diagnosis after an initial false negative test. "You don't always see a bull's eye," she warned, adding that symptoms are difficult to diagnose. "You could think kids are having the flu when in fact they are harboring Lyme disease."

She noted in the past five years the deer population has exploded in the borough. She also stated while the county had a deer culling program last winter, it did not seem to have an impact. "I have to stop my car weekly for deer crossings," she added.

After Ostheimer spoke, Merrilee Cichy, a resident of Little Falls and Legislative District Director for the The League of Humane Voters, responded by saying deer culling does not work. She said while there may be less deer initially, there is also less competition for food, causing female deer to produce larger litters. "You perpetuate a hunt, you perpetuate deer growth," Cichy stated. 

Cichy proposed contraception as an alternative to deer hunts. "The future is here," she said.

Cichy added Lyme disease would still be prevalent since small animals are hosts to ticks. "Even if you eliminate every fur bearing animal, you would still have ticks."

However, Eileen McInerney, a North Caldwell resident, refuted this claim. McInerney countered that in the four stages of a tick life, a large mammal is needed as a host in the final stage. 

McInerney cited a case on Mohegan Island in Maine where after deer were introduced, Lyme disease became prevalent. Once the deer were eliminated, the disease abated. McInerney, an anesthesiologist, said she had to give up her practice due to the debilitating effects of Lyme disease.

While Alessi tried to discourage debate, two other advocates spoke out against deer hunts.

Carol Rivielle of West Orange read information from the American Lyme Disease Foundation stating, "reducing deer numbers can have a negative effect on reducing the number of ticks since killing deer may increase the amount of food and cover available for mice, birds, and other hosts which in turn will boost the number of ticks."

McInerney also refuted this, stating information from the American Lyme Disease Foundation cannot be trusted. "Their mission is to say the test used to diagnose Lyme disease is great, and it is easy to treat and hardly anyone has any mental problems because of it," McInerney stated, noting she is proof of someone who has had many issues because of the disease.

Another advocate, Marilyn English of Verona, said rather than killing deer, the county should stop using pesticides on county property.  "This is more dangerous than deers," she stated.

English, who ran unsuccessfully for Essex County Executive as an independent in last year's election, handed reports to the Council of five years of use of the pesticide Round Up on every piece of County property, from the parks to the prisons.

English also had reports of Round Up and other pesticides linked to increased cases of non-Hodgkins lymphoma, uterine and breast cancer, and autism. 

"The county spent a million killing the deer when their are other options available. We should be worried about the use of pesticides rather than the deer," English said.

Ostheimer assured her, as a 5-year survivor of non-Hodgkins lymphoma, she does not want to use pesticides as a solution for the deer problem.

"We do not want to poison or contaminate the environment," she said.  The task force wants to explore all options, including contraception.

Ostheimer encouraged residents to join the task force, "We have to do something about the deer population and the spread of Lyme disease."

Christine August 26, 2011 at 12:56 AM
Why were non-North Caldwell residents at this meeting? How did they find out about it in advance?
Teresa Akersten August 26, 2011 at 10:00 PM
As far as Patch can tell it was word of mouth among the advocates, as well as flyers which were distributed to about 200 residents by the task force chairperson.
Sherri Abrams London September 23, 2011 at 04:11 PM
How about culling the developers who keep taking away the deer's habitat. 20 years ago when I moved into North Caldwell, I rarely saw a deer. Ever since the developers leveled Hilltop, and other green areas in the borough, the deer are everywhere. Along with the rise of deer, are raccoons, skunks, and foxes. North Caldwell is no longer the "green gem" of New Jersey. Stop the developers!
Kevin September 29, 2011 at 04:36 PM
On Sunday, driving down Smull Ave from Mountain to Bloomfield, I counted 9 deer crossing Smull.
will cummer March 08, 2012 at 04:18 PM
If anyone wants to try some samples of an organic deer repellent I'll give free product to 5 people to use! hope that helps!? email: will at treeworld dot com


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