Communities ponder deer sterilization program

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On one of its website links, a 1947 Pennsylvania Game News editorial says, "The white-tailed deer is today Pennsylvania's most striking game around. At the same time, it is also the Commonwealth's most complicated game problem."

Nearly 70 years later, it appears that little has changed as municipalities consider various — and sometimes controversial — ways to reduce deer herds.

"I think the deer are increasing. They don't have any natural predators," David Jason, president of the Scott commissioners, said. "The biggest problem is the deer don't move very much." 

The number of deer deaths has increased in Scott. Police Officer Mark Samangy said police don't keep a log of deer-vehicle collisions, but records show that in 2012, animal control picked up 38 dead deer from the sides of the road. That number rose to 41 in 2013.

His community and others are interested in learning more about how to curb deer population growth by sterilizing female deer.

Such a program would involve injecting the females with tranquilizer darts and then transporting them to an operating facility — possibly a converted ambulance — where their reproduction organs would be removed and their ears tagged. The animals would be returned to the location where they were found.

Besides reducing the number of females capable of reproducing, the procedure could deter males from becoming restless during the rut season, which occurs in the fall. Many deer-related accidents result from males darting to reach females. Also, not as many landscaping plants would be consumed if the herds were smaller.

Although the method may be new to this area, deer sterilization programs date to the 1990s in Illinois, Mt. Lebanon Commission member Kelly Fraasch said. Other states that have tried the method are New York, California, Maryland and Virginia, which has just completed its first sterilization program in Fairfax City.

"I have two key reasons I keep looking into this," Mrs. Fraasch said, noting that the sterilization program would provide long-term deer management as well as a humane and safe approach to curbing deer population.

Approval from the state Game Commission would be needed.

The cost would be about $1,000 a deer. Grants as well as volunteer efforts of veterinarians may help defray the cost.

The 20-member South Hills Area Council of Governments plans to discuss the deer sterilization option with its managers this week and the topic may be taken up next Thursday before the full board.

"This matter has come up before and it was always left to the municipalities. There's a lot that has to be evaluated," said Lou Gorski, executive director of SHACOG.

He said some police chiefs prefer to handle deer culling independently with trained bow hunters or shooters.

Upper St. Clair initiated its own multi-faceted whitetail deer management program in 1998 after receiving the community's approval through a referendum vote.

During the 2011-2012 season, 122 deer were removed from the township. Mark Mansfield, assistant manager for Upper St. Clair, said the township started with a controlled archery hunt at Boyce Park and then expanded to a contracted annual culling from late January to early March in recent years.

Bethel Park, too, has used controlled archery hunts to thin its deer population, many of which come into the borough from the nearby county park. In the past five years, about 55 deer have been killed annually, police Chief John Mackey reported in April.

Castle Shannon manager Tom Hartswick, who said his town had eight deer/vehicle collisions in 2013, said he is glad SHACOG is addressing the issue. "I understand people's concerns about damage to property," he said.

Noting that homes are close together in communities such as Castle Shannon and Mt. Lebanon, he said he agrees with Mrs. Fraasch that sharp-shooting and bow hunting may not be the right answers for such densely populated areas.

"You get some very heated opinions on both sides," said Mr. Hartswick, noting that other officials have observed that community sentiment often is split 50-50.

While acknowledging the controversy, Green Tree manager David Montz called the proposed sterilization program "the least controversial measure that I've seen in 20 years."

He said residents might accept the sterilization program because they understand the concept of spaying and neutering their pets. However, he added, another aerial survey should be done to make sure the problem is acute enough to justify the expense.

Green Tree does not have a deer problem except for nuisance complaints involving property, Mr. Montz said.

Carnegie Mayor Jack Kobistek said his town "definitely has a deer problem" but the borough may not be able to afford the program. Infrastructure needs must come first, he added.

Scott may be interested in participating.

"We have to keep exploring options as they come up," Mr. Jason said. "Maybe one of them will work one of these days."

Carole Gilbert Brown, freelance writer:

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