A reproductive physiologist who developed a vaccine used as an animal contraception told Mt. Lebanon commissioners Monday night that his field had become "a political nightmare."
Jay Kirkpatrick, director of science and conservation biology at ZooMontana, is regarded as a national expert on porcine zona pelludica, PZP, a vaccine that has temporarily prevented conception in wild horses and deer in order to control the population.
Still, early indications are that the commissioners will pursue shooting deer in Mt. Lebanon as early as this month, despite concern from people that they won't be notified before shooting takes place near their homes.
The commissioners are scheduled to consider a sharpshooting contract with the U.S. Department of Agriculture at its next meeting, 8 p.m. Jan. 22 in the municipal building. The board has approved a deer management plan prepared by the department. That plan is available on the town's Web site, www.mtlebanon.org.
Before making the decision, they wanted to check claims that a vaccine administered to does by dart could work.
Dr. Kirkpatrick said Pennsylvania officials shrug off efforts to use contraception.
"They've never been open to doing something like this," he said via conference call during the discussion meeting. He called the issue "an irrational fuss" because, he said, science on the vaccine is solid.
"This stuff works and works well if you do it right," he said, citing the cost of the vaccine and dart at about $22.50 for each animal, although training and labor costs are additional.
There are no estimates of how much the birth control plan would cost Mt. Lebanon.
Dr. Kirkpatrick said using the vaccine would stabilize the herd in a year or two and that it could be administered with two-inch darts. Larger darts could be used with dye in them to mark the deer so that officials could identify which ones had been vaccinated.
Public works Director Tom Kelley told the commissioners he would present a contract for approval that calls for shooting deer after 9 p.m. and before 6 a.m. over eight nights from the end of January through February in several of the town's parks. USDA officials would look at the parks before then to help determine where the shooting should take place.
The budget for the program is $20,000.
Craig Swope, of the USDA, said the deer would be baited into the open and shooters probably would fire from vehicles.
But, he said, while the shooters notify municipal officials a few hours before they shoot, they don't notify people living there.
That didn't sit well with several people in attendance.
"If they're coming into Bird Park, I want to know," said Sandraluz Lara-Cinisomo, of Cedar Boulevard, whose home is close to the park. She was concerned that buffer areas in the plan are too small, putting shooters dangerously close.
Mr. Swope said the reason his group doesn't notify people is to prevent intervention by "people who don't want us to be successful" in the task of shooting deer.
He said the group had never injured a person or pet and had never shot a deer without killing it. The bullets used would be "ballistic tip, high expansion bullets" that don't tend to exit the animal in order to prevent ricochet.
"We have never initiated a culling program that has not been successful," he said.
But others weren't convinced and asked the commissioners to make sure public safety was ahead of any other goal of the program.
"There fails to be any sufficient, adequate documentation of public safety concern," Kimberly Schevtchuk said.
Laura Pace can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-851-1867.