Deer Management Alternatives

Denise Savageau

 

Deer Management Alternatives Reviewed by Alliance

 

As part of its mission, the recently formed Fairfield County Deer Management Alliance will continue to review all management tools available to local governments and private citizens working on deer management.  These will be evaluated on their effectiveness and feasibility to achieve long-term management goals.

 

 “One of the goals of the Alliance is to keep on top of any new findings on deer management and pass that on to the local communities we represent” stated Tom Belote, Chairman.  “Present studies indicate that while some techniques such as fencing can be effective on a particular site, this only moves the deer someplace else.  It does not address the real problem which is the overpopulation of deer in Fairfield County.”

 

 The overabundant deer population in Fairfield County is taking its toll on the biodiversity of the region.   Deer browse is severely impacting the forest under-story resulting in loss of habitat for some bird species.  Wildflowers are disappearing and long-term forest health is being threatened.  In addition, the correlation between deer herd size and the incidence of Lyme disease has been documented by the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station.  Reducing the deer herd to a sustainable level is important to both human and environmental health of our region.

 

 Three management strategies for reducing deer herd size are hunting, birth control, and relocation. The Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection discusses these options in a booklet entitled Managing Urban Deer in Connecticut. The concept of trap and relocation appeals to many residents, but the logistics and costs of such an initiative are problematic. Costs can range from $400 to $3,000 per animal, however, even if the taxpayer is willing to bear the cost, there no longer remain any suitable places for deer to be released.  More importantly, DEP’s booklet states that “Studies have shown that about half of all deer trapped and relocated die from capture-related stress and from wandering extensive distances after release, resulting in road mortality.”

 

 Research on birth control is ongoing but no contraceptive vaccine for wildlife has been approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  FDA approval is necessary as there is potential for any vaccine used on wildlife to get into the food chain and our food supply.  To date, research success has been limited to captive and/or semi-isolated deer herds, and attempts have failed on free-ranging herds.  “This is one area of deer management that we are watching closely,” explains Patricia Sesto, Director of Environmental Affairs for Wilton.  “Presently, contraception is not available but we are very interested in the potential for this to be a viable management option.  Unfortunately, no contraceptive vaccine is expected to be on the market for at least 6-7 years.”   Even if birth control where available today, this method of deer herd management only stops the growth of the herd, it does not reduce the overpopulation that already exists.

 

 With these two management options out of contention, population reduction through lethal methods is the only alternative available.  To this end, several Fairfield County towns have taken on a more active role in encouraging and/or orchestrating hunting programs.  With careful consideration given to safety and public concerns, these communities believe they can appropriately implement such programs in their suburban landscape.