Amid growing concern about the spread of Lyme disease on the Vineyard, selectmen in Edgartown, Aquinnah and West Tisbury this week agreed to join the call for adding another two-week deer hunt next January.

Richard Johnson, a biologist working for the six Island boards of health on a long-term study of ticks and their habitat, appeared before selectmen in the three towns on Tuesday and Wednesday.

“If you talk to people, everybody on the Island has a story . . . how many people do we know whose lives have really been severely impacted by tick borne illnesses, by Lyme disease? And how many more are there going to be?” Mr. Johnson told the Aquinnah selectmen Tuesday.

Mr. Johnson is visiting selectmen in all six towns seeking approval of an initiative to introduce an extra shotgun deer hunting season in January of next year.

As in Chilmark and Oak Bluffs last week, this week he had a mostly receptive audience.

“I think that whatever you guys can do to help mitigate the scourge of this disease would be great,” Edgartown selectman Arthur Smadbeck said.

A conversation has already begun between the Island boards of health and state fish and wildlife officials about an extra hunt. A letter of support from selectmen in every town is needed to begin the process, which takes several months to complete.

Mr. Johnson said the proposal aims to stem the spread of Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses, which have reached epidemic levels on the Island. Deer play a key part in the life cycle of ticks, and efforts to reduce the diseases they carry are starting to focus on reducing the Island herd, estimated at roughly twice the state average.

“We need to figure out what to do on an Islandwide basis, on a big scale,” he told the Edgartown selectmen. Over the past 11 years, he said, the Island deer harvest has been 460 to 792 deer, with an average of 600 to 650 most years. “It doesn’t seem to be reducing the deer herd,” he said. “They seem to be increasing slowly.”

“I think it’s a good idea,” Mr. Smadbeck said of adding an extra two-week shotgun hunt in January. “I think we have to have many fronts . . . this is a good first front.” Noting that he has had two vehicle collisions with deer, he said there are no natural predators on the Island except hunters and cars.

Mr. Johnson said the extra hunting would be timed to give deer a brief period to settle down after the black powder hunting season ends on Dec. 31, but before the peak of breeding season. “The hunters I’ve talked to, they think any additional season we can get will help with the deer,” he said.

He added that adding Sunday hunting to the existing season would be ideal, but the prohibition against Sunday hunting is state law and would have to be changed through legislation. Past attempts have not succeeded, he said.

Edgartown health agent Matt Poole also attended the meeting. He and Mr. Johnson spoke about plans to accommodate an extra hunting season if it takes place. Arrangements are being discussed for a cooler for hanging the deer, a butcher or processing facility, and a mechanism to distribute donated venison. Mr. Johnson said he is meeting with leaders at Island Grown Initiative

this week to discuss deer processing, while Mr. Poole is exploring a way venison can be shared with those who need it, including through the food pantry and senior centers.

“I think part of this is making good use of the venison that we produce out of this additional hunting,” Mr. Poole said. “We do have a way we can do that . . . that was big step in all this.”

In Aquinnah discussion covered a broad range of topics from science to strategy.

Police chief Randhi Belain said in his experience there are far fewer hunters in Aquinnah now than years ago. He said he would be fine with an extended season. “Not a big deal. It’s just another two weeks. You never know what you will get,” the police chief said.

Fire chief Simon Bolin, who is a hunter, questioned whether another hunt can be effective. The deer will just get smarter, he said, going to areas where hunters are still not allowed.

Mr. Johnson had a different viewpoint, pointing out that the state does not allow hunting within 500 feet of a house, and that extending the season to January could provide some additional access around homes whose owners are away. He also said he was hopeful that at least for the first year, the deer would be duped by the strategy.

Aquinnah resident Elise LeBovit read from an article in the Block Island

Times, questioning the strategy and suggesting that white-footed mice and other small mammals, which are hosts for Lyme disease, have better access to houses and pets. She also argued against hunting late in the season, when deer are pregnant and people want to be out walking around.

And town resident Jay MacLeod raised the issue of illegal hunting, saying there were recent issues with people coming in from off Island and leaving with truckloads of deer without going to a weigh-in station.

“Recently this last year we’ve had some horror stories in Aquinnah that some people are aware of,” he said. “There’s off-Island hunters that come here and they haul deer out of here by the truckload without going to a weigh station. I don’t know what that impacts in terms of the counts, in terms of the inspection for ticks, but I tell you it’s a major problem in Aquinnah.”

In West Tisbury on Wednesday, the discussion was similarly broad ranging.

Chairman Richard Knabel asked Mr. Johnson about the MIT project to create genetically-engineered mice that are resistant to Lyme disease.

The project is still five to 10 years from reality and will cost millions, Mr. Johnson said.

“Personally, interesting, a little scary, but also I don’t know if we have five to ten more years,” the biologist said. “I’m just worried about how many more people will get sick while we continue to talk about it.”

Selectman Jeffrey (Skipper) Manter 3rd asked about the possibility of hiring professional hunters to come to the Island to take out a large number of deer.

“Some of the people who own these larger tracts of land . . . might allow a professional to come there and eliminate the deer that way,” Mr. Manter said.

Mr. Johnson said it was something they had looked in to. White Buffalo is a group of professional hunters that use bait, night hunting and gain access to private land and charge per deer for a range of services. He said with the skill level available on the Vineyard, it wasn’t worth it.

“Hunting is a big part of the Island culture, to me, that seems really disrespectful to local hunters to bring in sharp shooters to do it,” he said. “If we gave them the same leeway, they would do just as well.”

Selectmen in all three towns unanimously agreed to write a letter supporting the initiative.

Mr. Knabel called his vote reluctant.

“It seems to me there are a lot of loose ends about this,” he said later.

Mr. Johnson is scheduled to speak to the Tisbury selectmen on Jan. 24.

Heather Hamacek contributed reporting.