September 18 Herald Times Birth Control Methods DiscussedSeptember 24, 2012
Birth control approach to reducing urban deer population discussed
By Kasey Husk 331-4243 | firstname.lastname@example.org
September 18, 2012, last update: 9/18 @ 10:49 am
Deer gaze at a photographer while grazing in a yard of an eastside Bloomington neighborhood in this file photo. David Snodgress | Herald-Times
Discussion of nonlethal techniques for managing urban deer populations dominated the conversation between members of the Bloomington-Monroe County Deer Task Force and the Humane Society of the United States Monday.
Four members of the deer task force — the 11-member advisory group that formed more than two years ago to study solutions to the city’s deer overpopulation problem — held an hourlong teleconference with Stephanie Boyles Griffin, senior director of wildlife response, innovations and services for the human society, Monday afternoon to receive input on the city’s deer issues. During the conference, Boyles Griffin talked about how other communities have used methods such as birth control and sterilization to control their urban deer, while task force members noted that those methods are likely not feasible in Bloomington.
Monday’s teleconference came ahead of three other meetings planned for Wednesday through Oct. 2, in which the task force members are expected to finalize a lengthy report and recommendations for managing the deer. That report will be presented to city and county officials late next month. Expected to be included in those recommendations, task force member Dave Rollo told Boyles Griffin in the teleconference, are a “palette of lethal and nonlethal solutions” including feeding bans, fence height recommendations, planting deer-resistant vegetation and ways of shooting the deer.
Boyles Griffin talked Monday about several population management techniques that the city had already effectively ruled out, in particular the permanent sterilization of does and the use of birth-control drugs administered either using an air-gun or by anesthetizing the deer and administering a dosage by hand.
Rollo noted that the Indiana Department of Natural Resources does not condone either method of controlling the deer population: Sterilization is considered to be cost-prohibitive, while the DNR fears that the use of drugs on a deer could potentially be harmful to humans who accidentally consume the meat. Boyles Griffin said the drug used for birth control is approved by the Environmental Protection Agency, but Rollo countered that because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved the drug as being safe for humans, DNR does not condone its use.
Boyles Griffin said animals that receive birth control treatments are generally tagged, however, so hunters would know that if they shot one. She also said mortality among deer tranquilized while the drug was administered is generally low, answering concerns from task force members who had been told that the stress of such methods can result in high mortality rates.
Boyles Griffin and task force members also noted that the humane society’s experience with successful sterilization and birth control programs has been in areas considered to be “closed systems”: for example a 5-square-mile island once home to 600 deer, where numbers have been reduced to about 250 through such methods. Monroe County does not have such natural barriers to keep untreated deer from moving into its area, and so it is uncertain how effective a sterilization or birth control method could be.
“I don’t deny this is emerging technology, and we are looking for places that want to use it and to find out if it’s something that state wildlife agencies will embrace for municipalities that can’t implement lethal solutions or don’t want to,” she said.
Boyles Griffin did note that it was not her job to “sway you either way” when it came to the task force’s recommendations, but that obviously the humane society encourages people to coexist in peace with animals. However, if a population problem poses a “real and imminent threat to public safety” and nonlethal methods had been exhausted, the human society could endorse a lethal solution as long as it was done as humanely as possible. Such a recommendation “doesn’t happen often,” however.
Boyles Griffin also warned that the question of how to handle the deer can be a “polarizing issue,” which could cost the city more than expected if a group opposed to killing the deer chose to try and sue the city to stop it. It’s also an issue that will keep cropping up, because “if you go down that road you are going to have to do it again and again and again.”
Rollo said after the meeting that while he’s concerned about how polarizing the issue could be, he is confident it will become less so as people learn more about the task force’s research.
“We have hunters and wildlife rehabilitators on the same group (who) essentially converged on a lot of what they understood should happen,” he said of the task force. “I think that indicates the public will probably do the same. There will always be people who will say there should be no interference with the deer whatsoever and always be people who say (they) believe deer should be exterminated, but hopefully by the time this gets through the city council and we issue the report and people read it, that number will be fewer and fewer.”