East Hampton Deer Forum Discusses Deer Sterilization

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In another attempt to grapple with the growing deer population in East Hampton—which has been called an emergency by East Hampton Town officials—the Village Preservation Society of East Hampton on Thursday hosted a forum that focused primarily on sterilization.

The forum came just weeks after the East Hampton Town Board adopted a deer management plan, which calls for an increase in the number of parcels for hunting and allowing professionals to cull the herd. According to VPS members, the forum was held to inform the community as well as elected officials about their options.

Village Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach Jr., Town Councilman Dominick Stanzione and North Haven Mayor Jeff Sander were among those attending.

Joshua Stiller, an associate wildlife biologist with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, and Dr. Anthony DeNicola, co-founder and president of the White Buffalo wildlife conservation management organization based in Connecticut, presented their findings about what methods work best.

Mr. Stiller said there were different methods of controlling the population, from hiring professional hunters to cull the heard, to professional contraception. He said contraception can cost anywhere from $500 to $3,000 per deer and no contraceptive agent has yet been approved by the U.S. Federal Drug Administration for non-research-based use on wildlife populations.

Dr. DeNicola told the 60-plus community members about White Buffalo’s success with surgical sterilization of deer in several communities across the country.

In the Village of Cayuga Heights in Ithaca Town, which has a housing density similar to that of East Hampton Village, 172 deer were captured during 14 nights last December. Of those, 137 does were sterilized. Dr. DeNicola said only two deer died as a result of the capture and two were euthanized because they were already severely injured before they were captured.

Although surgical sterilization of deer can cost anywhere from $500 to $1,000 per doe, he said the process is humane, non-lethal, and there are less legal restrictions than hunting and contraceptive use, and there has been strong public acceptance of the practice.

On the other hand, it is costly, there is no immediate reduction in population, and there can be some resistance from the state because deer captured with the aid of immobilizing drugs may have drug residues in their body, for example.

Responding to a question from the audience, Dr. DeNicola said after sterilization is complete, the chance that new deer would move into the area and negate the effort is minimal.

“The deer you see in your yard is the same deer,” he said. “The deer that lives in the village doesn’t even know the town exists and doesn’t understand something is outside of its range. Only 5 percent of the population shifts about.”

Both Mr. Stiller and Dr. DeNicola said estimating deer populations through a Forward Looking Infrared Radiometer, which records deer numbers through their body heat from the sky, is not a reliable way to count the population. They said that anything could cloud the data, including vegetation and buildings that the infrared technology cannot see through. In June, the town revealed the results of an aerial survey it paid approximately $13,000 for. Town officials were disappointed when the results tallied 877 deer within town limits—a dramatic decline from the 3,293 deer that were counted in 2006 by roadside distance sampling.

Because it is difficult to get an accurate count, Mr. Stiller said to get a good grasp on how many are in an area it is good to look at the number of deer-vehicle collisions, the number of deer taken by hunters, crop and landscaping damage complaints and the rate of forest regeneration.

Mayor Rickenbach said government officials, on the village and town levels, are struggling to come to grips with the issue.

“Both the town and village are very sensitive to this issue and we don’t want to stand by,” he said. “We want to respond in an appropriate fashion and do the right thing.”

North Haven Mayor Jeff Sander said North Haven will come up with a new comprehensive plan to deal with its deer population in the next couple of years and will begin to measure the tick population in conjunction with its deer population, and put a plan for culling and possibly sterilization into place.

Some community members expressed concern that deer are not the cause of the rampant tick population on the East End, and questioned whether decreasing the population is a step in the right direction.

Dr. DeNicola had a piece of advice: “People are fearful that we will eliminate all the deer,” he said. “Never be fearful. There’s always too many deer and no matter how hard you try you will never make your population too low.”

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