Mt. Lebanon hiring firm to count deer

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Mt. Lebanon police received more than 150 deer-related calls over a one-year period.

That breaks down to about one every other day, and the frequency has not gone unnoticed around the community.

"It is something that came to light while I was campaigning," said Kristen Linfante, who was elected as Ward 3 commissioner in 2011. "Deer management and deer problems were by far the biggest issue that people brought to me. Of all of the things that a municipality has to address, the No. 1 topic that repeatedly came up was, 'What are you going to do about the deer problem?' "

Mt. Lebanon last addressed it in the winter of 2006-07, with sharpshooters carrying out a cull. Since then, the local deer population may -- or may not -- be growing.

Commissioners decided to spend up to $12,000, a late addition to the 2013 budget, to conduct surveys to estimate how many deer are in Mt. Lebanon. The municipality is soliciting proposals from qualified companies to perform a count, possibly starting this month.

In the meantime, the relative numbers are anyone's guess.

Kelly Fraasch, Ward 5 commissioner, has heard many of the same concerns.

But now, "I have been getting phone calls and emails that people aren't seeing as many deer as they used to," she said. "They used to sit in Rollier's parking lot near the mulch bags, watching people, but they have not been there for months now.

"Public perception is one thing, and we have to be careful of that," she said. "We might think we're being overtaken by deer, but there might not be as many as we really think."

The impending survey should provide a clearer picture for municipal officials, who have no data available since the cull six years ago.

A survey method commissioners have discussed involves aerial infrared sensor technology, which provides "superb resolution and the ability to determine animals by their morphology or body shape," according to the website for Vision Air Research, an Idaho-based wildlife survey company. "We can see the deer's ears."

While the survey process is in the works, commissioners also are talking about taking more immediate measures, such as offering educational programs on deer-resistant gardening and posting more "deer crossing" signs.

"Even if it seems like a simple thing, it does alert drivers that this area does have deer, especially for visitors," Mrs. Fraasch said. "We're so close to Pittsburgh, they might not think we have deer."

Of course, the major consideration in addressing a perceived deer problem is the method.

"I'm hearing that they want a cull," said Ms. Linfante, who has publicly stated her own support for such a measure. "I think people recognize that not only is it necessary, but it's really the only viable solution at this point if we really want to reduce numbers."

A counter argument involves public safety considerations with the discharge of firearms.

"I am adamant in my belief that the risk of anyone being injured in a cull is far, far less than anyone being injured in a conflict with the deer," Ms. Linfante said. "Not that I believe nothing could possibly happen, but the benefits certainly outweigh the risks."

An alternative to culling, though, might be the way the commission decides to go.

Mrs. Fraasch has composed and posted online a four-page document, "Deer in Mt. Lebanon," based on her several months of research on the topic. In it, she expresses her opposition to hunting by rifle or bow, instead favoring sterilization by removal of does' ovaries as a viable option.

She cites a significant cost savings over the long term and mitigation of some hazards associated with culling.

"In most cases during a cull, deer get anxious and dart, which can create an unsafe environment for vehicles in the area," she states in the document. "In articles pertaining to deer culling, most communities confirm this phenomenon by reporting an increase in deer-car collisions in the first year of a cull."

How the municipality ends up proceeding will be under scrutiny by a large number of residents. But the ultimate effectiveness can go only so far.

"There is a group of people who say, 'We want to eradicate deer,' " Mrs. Fraasch said. "That's never going to happen in Western Pennsylvania, no matter what we do."

neigh_south

Harry Funk, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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