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DEER--HASTINGS ON HUDSON HAS INITIATED AN INTERESTING DEER CONTRACEPTION STUDY
Release Date: March 09, 2014
In recent years most elected officials in Westchester have received calls, e mails and letters from residents concerned about deer. The village of Hastings, one of six villages in the town of Greenburgh, has started an experiment –a deer birth control study. Two articles may interest you: an article that appeared in the NY TIMES last year and an article in the Rivertowns Enterprise (reprinted below) that appeared in the February 28th issue announcing the start of the program. The village highlights the reasons they rejected lethal options below.
I will be watching what is happening in Hastings closely. I am writing to the Mayor and Hastings Village Board. If those conducting the study believe that the experiment is successful, the program could be expanded to unincorporated Greenburgh.
FROM THE VILLAGE WEBSITE
Hastings Deer Immunocontraception Study
We are seeking to bring down the deer population by 35-45% over five years. This rate is slightly
faster than that seen in the Fire Island study, but slightly slower than that observed at Fripp
Island. The study will include the collection of metrics that will seek to determine whether any
drop in population levels will have a concurrent impact on the negative impacts of the deer.
To do so, we will seek to inoculate as many does as can be reasonably captured during the period
allowed by the DEC license with a immunocontraceptive (PZP, derived from a pig protein). We
will then repeat this effort over four subsequent years, monitoring whether the fawn population
drops, and whether the lower population will positively impact other metrics that the project will
Although the village is bordered on to the west by the Hudson River, and parkways and other
geographic boundaries may inhibit deer ingress from the east, immigration routes from the north
and south may permit deer to enter and leave the site. Thus, the absence of clear borders poses a
new and challenging environment for the application of contraception for management of deer
In summary, this trial will focus on three questions.
1. What will be the effects on fawn production and population growth of PZP contraceptive
treatments in an open suburban population of white-tailed deer?
2. What changes in deer impacts on vegetation and vehicle safety are associated with the
3. Will the particular formulation of the PZP we will use (FIA emulsion plus PZP/QA-21
pellets) provide longer-lasting contraceptive efficacy than just PZP/FIA emulsion alone?
Deer Immunocontraception Study
WHY HASTINGS-ON-HUDSON IS PURSUING IMMUNOCONTRACEPTION
Like many communities, the Village of Hastings-on-Hudson has a significant white-tail deer population that has resulted in numerous negative impacts, including car-deer collisions, property damage, over-browsing of the woods and the spread of various diseases. The Village has examined a range of alternatives and has settled on embarking on a study of immuno-contraception to examine its impact on the local deer population.
Two lethal options were examined and rejected:
1. Hunting Hunting is constrained both by County law (which only permits bow hunting in parks) and New York State DEC law which limits hunting to no closer than 500 feet from school buildings and homes which have not given permission. Bow hunting would be limited to only one location, limited in size, in an isolated corner of the village and is therefore impractical. Furthermore, hunting would run into substantial annual cultural resistance, making an annual hunt a divisive event.
2. Net and Bolt “Net and Bolt” involves trapping deer by luring them under nets and then dispatching them by using a “captive bolt”, a device used in slaughter yards to kill deer. The method, only used in a few communities, would be divisive and problematic to implement because it could be easily disrupted. While the Village secured a permit, it was never used and this concept never left the early planning stages.
We then examined non-lethal options.
1. Surgical Sterilization We examined the possibility of surgically sterilizing deer. This is being tried near Cornell and, while effective, involves first sedated the deer and then performing a surgical operation by a trained veterinarian in a temporary field hospital. We decided that this would be too expensive on an annual basis.
2. Immunocontraception We examined the field studies of immunocontraception (Fripp island, Fire Island) and realized that they were successful in bringing down deer populations within 5 years by more than 50%. If effective in a community like ours, and the production of the immune vaccine became industrialized, the ultimate annual cost would be brought down to low single-digit thousands of dollars. We decided that this approach was worth studying and, if effective, could be a practical method of lowering deer numbers.
Deer birth-control study to start next week Feb 28, 2014
By Jackie LupoPHOTO BY BOB PLOTKIN
HASTINGS — The Village's long-awaited deer birth-control experiment begins this weekend in Hillside Woods. Darting of deer starts early next week and continues through this month. Curiosity-seekers are being warned to keep their distance, and dog-owners accustomed to letting their pets run free will see the leash law strictly enforced.
In mid-February the Village received the last of the many permits it needed to carry out the program, which involves luring and sedating the does, tagging their ears for future identification, and injecting them with PZP (porcine zona pellucida), an immuno-contraceptive drug used for years on large mammals.
The five-year study was designed for Hastings by Dr. Allen Rutberg of the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). Under his leadership, these institutions have conducted successful deer birth- control experiments, but the Hastings study will be the first to measure the effects of deer contraception in a dense suburban environment without natural boundaries.
The first step will be to attract the deer to a specific area. Rick Naugle and Kayla Grams of the HSUS plan to scout Hillside Woods this weekend. They will set out a deer feeding station, which looks like a barrel full of corn with a timer controlling when food is dispensed. If residents come upon a deer feeding station, they should not approach it or allow their pets to do so.
“Deer are hungry at this time of year, and they learn very quickly where [the feeder] is and when it dispenses,” said Mayor Peter Swiderski. “On the third or fourth day [probably March 3], Rick will be waiting with his darting gun in the bushes and do his job.”
When darting is under way, access to the affected areas of the park will be restricted and there will be signs, yellow tape, police and/or volunteers to indicate what is off-limits. Leash laws will be enforced (without warnings) all month long. There will be extra police patrols in the area, and dog owners found walking a dog off-leash will receive a summons and face a possible fine.
The large darts contain an anesthetic and are equipped with a radio transmitter. Naugle will wait until a deer is broadside to him and he has a clear flank shot, from about 20 to 25 feet away, Swiderski explained. Each dart is barbed so it stays in the deer’s flank.
After being darted, the deer is likely to bolt.
“Some may go 20 feet, stop, and within 5 or 10 minutes, lie down and go to sleep. Others may run a bit,” Swiderski said. “Each deer is a unique individual.”
The HSUS workers (identifiable by a bright orange vest) will wait 10 minutes to allow the sedative to take effect, then will look for the deer. They will use a receiver that gets a signal from the dart and beeps more frequently the closer it gets to the deer. It’s possible that some deer may run a quarter mile or more. In the event that a resident finds a deer that is sedated, unconscious, or behaving unusually, they should not approach her. If the HSUS team does not appear within a few minutes, residents should call the police at 478-2344.
In the unlikely event that a dart falls out of a deer’s flank when it runs away, and it is found by a resident, the dart should not be touched, and the police should also be notified immediately.
By the time Naugle finds the doe, she “should be lying down and sedated,” Swiderski said. “He’ll verify that the deer is suitably sedated, and if not, he will sedate it more.”
Each sleeping doe will have big, yellow numbered tags attached to both ears. She will then be injected with the PZP. In subsequent years when the same deer need booster shots, those with ear tags can be darted with PZP directly; does without tags will have to be treated by the two-step process.
Swiderski said the workers will typically travel in pairs, either Naugle and Grams together, or one of the HSUS workers together with resident volunteers. After injecting the doe, they will wait until she revives (usually 30 to 90 minutes) and make sure she is stable. A veterinarian will be on call in case a deer is injured.
A deer running into traffic after being darted is the biggest risk in this type of procedure, according to Swiderski. “As a result, the selection of the site is important,” he said.
Swiderski asked that residents “respect that we’re asking them to hang back. Deer remain wild animals whether they have a buttload of sedative or not. The risk is that people will be curious and get themselves too close to the project.”
Swiderski said that in Naugle and Grams’ combined 25 years of darting deer, “they have never mistaken a dog or a person for a deer and shot it by accident. In 3,000 darting events it has never happened because their primary concern is safety.”
For the first year of the experiment, “We will be pleased if we get 20 to 30 deer,” Swiderski said. “Each locale has deer that behave differently. It will take at least a year for Rick to learn the lay of the land.”
Starting this year and for the course of the study, citizen volunteers will be conducting various measurements to gauge the effectiveness of the project.
In Melissa Shandroff’s AP Environmental Science class, students will set up an “exclosure” in Hillside Woods, fenced high enough to keep deer out, so the researchers can study what grows back when deer are not in the woods. Then, unfenced 25 x 25-foot plots will be staked off, but not enclosed, so animals do have access to those plots. Resident Peter Lee Waczek, a Cornell Cooperative Extension educator, will advise the students on making a plant species count.
“Over five years, we’ll see if there’s any regeneration occurring because there are fewer deer,” Swiderski said.
In another citizen-run experiment, resident Irene Jong will place 40 pots of hosta plants on properties evenly spaced out throughout the village, where homeowners have consented to “host” a hosta. “Every year we’ll put one on the same property and track whether more survive,” the mayor said.
In the spring, the Village will attach several infrared camera traps to trees. They will photograph every warm body passing next to them, including deer, and over time they will help researchers make an increasingly accurate deer count. And finally, the Village will be studying whether the incidence of deer/car accidents decreases during the study.
Will this attempt to limit the deer population and its negative impacts work? “I have no idea if it will be successful,” Swiderski said. “I hope it will be. We will have lots of ways to measure whether it is.”
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