Deer management has been a hot news item recently. When it comes to non-lethal methods, animal rights groups bring up the possibility of buck sterilization. This idea is rejected fairly quickly. Unlike the more sedentary female deer, bucks travel broadly and they are polygamous; meaning they will mate as often and with as many females as they can.
A 2014 aerial survey found 763 deer in Staten Island’s green space and some ecologists think there may be more than 1,000 now. The New York City Parks Department plans to sterilize all male deer roaming Staten Island, starting with a $2 million effort during this fall’s rutting season. Hundreds of bucks would be given vasectomies and released back onto the borough during the three-year study. The goal is to sterilize all of the male deer (about 40 percent of the herd) over a several year period. That amounts to about $5,000 per buck if they sterilize all of them in the first year.
That seems like an obscene amount of money to spend on a relatively small deer herd. In Ann Arbor, Michigan the city established a contract with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to cull 100 deer for $35,000 ($350 per deer). This past winter, USDA marksmen shot 63 deer. Michigan Sportsmen Against Hunger, a program founded by a number of organizations including SCI, partnered with the city and covered the cost of processing more than 1,000 pounds of venison that was donated and distributed to feed the hungry.
Maybe Mayor Bill de Blasio should sit down with a wildlife biologist before promoting sterilization. Several wildlife experts said the plan won’t work because the city is ignoring basic deer biology and conventional herd management practices, not to mention unsuccessful past attempts. Mayor de Blasio and other city officials argue that this is the fastest and most humane way to limit further growth of the potentially dangerous white-tailed population. While sterilizing the bucks is expected to cut the population by 10 to 30 percent, the hundreds of deer that remain could still wreak havoc even without reproduction because they can live a decade or more. The spread of Lyme disease, negative impact to forests and private property, and human-wildlife conflict will still continue.
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has to approve the city’s sterilization plan. The agency does not recommend fertility control programs to manage deer populations because of their “limited effectiveness” and “inability to quickly reduce deer-human conflicts.”
Though conservationists differ in their choice of management tools, curbing growing deer population numbers is a common goal. Hunting is seen as the most effective strategy and, while a managed hunt may appear to be costly, it is a proven way to reduce a population whereas fertility control can, at best, stabilize it. In most cases, fertility control is a future solution to a current problem. Hunting can provide an immediate and less costly solution to species management, and one that has significantly more benefits than sterilization. However, Mayor de Blasio seems intent on ignoring his best option in favor of staging a feel-good melodrama.