Here’s Something: Cull deer to limit Lyme disease

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It’s summer, and the living is easy – except for the threats lying just outside our back doors.

Lyme disease is just a tick bite away, and chances are you know someone who has contracted it. There are other tick-borne diseases, but Lyme is particularly dangerous since, if left untreated, the disease targets the heart, joints and nervous system. Because of the lingering effects, Lyme strikes fear into every outdoor-loving person in the Northeast, where it’s concentrated.

My uncle just contracted Lyme – for the second time. He’s an avid outdoorsman and loves working in his yard. One or more deer ticks bit him in three places on his back. Now he’s dealing with the aftermath. He’s not alone. Thousands of people are similarly afflicted.

This is becoming a scourge, frightening both children and adults from walking through the woods, enjoying a picnic in a meadow, and generally enjoying God’s creation.

So what can we do?

There are precautions the experts say we can take, but they are by no means fail-safe. They tell us to perform tick checks every time we come in from the outdoors. Sure, that may work if you’ve got great vision and patience, but it’s no guarantee, since ticks can hide in places we can’t see (as my uncle learned).

We can also lather up with mosquito repellent, which also repels ticks. If you live in a rural area where neighbors are few and far between, consider a free-range chicken operation. My neighbor had a half-dozen chickens a few years ago and I was always happy to see them making their way into my yard because each peck was another tick being swallowed out of existence.

A few other tips include wearing white, so you can see a black tick, and being careful to fully extract a tick rather than leaving its head (and biting parts) inside your skin.

All of these tactics, however, pale in comparison to the ultimate solution: drastically reducing the deer population. Ticks thrive on deer, and I recently read that if authorities set a goal of culling the deer herd by 90 percent, that would reduce Lyme disease correspondingly.

Until reading that article, I’ve only heard the “experts” discussing how to prevent tick bites, not how to target the cause. While spraying areas heavy with ticks may also work, while hoping for brutal winters to kill off the ticks, the real solution is cutting off the deer ticks’ favorite host, the deer.

The question is whether we have the heart to kill Bambi and her mother and father to reduce Lyme disease. Deer are cute; they’re free; they bounce away with their tails flipping and flopping through the trees. Would society tolerate a mass culling of the herd?

A few decades ago when Lyme was in its infancy and few people were stricken, limiting the deer herd in the Northeast would probably have met citizens’ resistance. Actually, in researching the issue, I found several stories about such previous attempts meeting stiff opposition. But now with so many plagued by effects of the disease and many more fearful whenever they go outdoors, the time may be right for this more serious approach. My uncle and everyone else touched by Lyme deserve a real solution to the problem, rather than more public service announcements telling us to wear white and use mosquito spray.

Culling the deer population would also reduce other deer-related issues, especially accidents, deaths, injuries and vehicle damage resulting from deer strikes along our highways and back roads. All of us have either had a close call or actually struck one of these animals as it ranged onto a road.

I’m all for culling the deer population. Let the hunters have at ’em, I say. Limiting the population will have an immediate and permanent impact on the deer tick problem, as well as having the added benefit of improving safety on our roads. There’s nothing worse than suffering from something that could have been avoided. Lyme disease and traffic issues related to deer are things that can be avoided, if we’re willing.

Perhaps worse than the physical impacts that ticks are having on society are Lyme’s psychological effects. People are afraid to get out into nature. Instead, they stay indoors where they can safely, albeit virtually, experience the world through a screen. This is unfortunate, since getting back to nature and enjoying creation is fundamental to our mental and spiritual well-being.

It’s time for authorities to get serious about Lyme disease, before more people suffer the consequences of their inaction.

John Balentine, a former managing editor for Sun Media Group, lives in Windham.