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South Euclid Council committee examines sterilization as a means of deer population control

The Plain Dealer  Cleveland logo The Plain Dealer Cleveland 7/28/2020 By Jeff Piorkowski,

SOUTH EUCLID, Ohio -- City Council is now looking into a multi-faceted approach to limiting South Euclid’s deer population that could include sedating the animals, then performing sterilization surgery on them

During an online Zoom meeting held Monday (July 27), council’s Safety Committee heard from Dr. Anthony DeNicola, of White Buffalo, Inc., a nonprofit whose website states that it is “dedicated to the conservation of native species and ecosystems,” and which also offers deer management solutions.

DeNicola, connected to council by District 11 County Councilwoman Sunny Simon, spoke a great deal during the one-hour meeting about limiting the deer population through the means of sterilization. Simon has been an advocate for using contraception to control the deer population versus culling.

In previous committee discussions on the topic, a majority of council appeared to favor the idea of allowing residents, in controlled situations, to hunt deer. Council also discussed the possibility of hiring professional sharpshooters.

A U.S. Department of Agriculture infrared deer count performed in March revealed that South Euclid has 130 or more deer living within its borders, or about 28 per square mile. During a June 22 Safety Committee meeting, Geoff Westerfield, assistant wildlife management supervisor for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, told the committee that most cities have 10 to 15 deer per square mile.

Council has been discussing the idea of deer control since last October, when a survey of residents showed that 40.2 percent of the more than 600 respondents had a negative feeling about deer. In another question, however, 32.7 percent of respondents supported lethal means of thinning the deer population, while 31.3 percent strongly opposed lethal force. When asked about contraception or sterilization, 48.8 percent were in support.

White Buffalo, Inc., based in Connecticut, shares on its website deer management work it has done in places such as Mt. Lebanon, Pa. and Fairfax, Va., and DeNicola also spoke during the meeting of work done on Staten Island, N.Y. He told the council committee that, initially, the organization injected deer with contraceptives, but found that the injections wore off in a year or two, which required readministering them, making for a time consuming process.

It was then decided to move on to a surgical approach to sterilization. In order to surgically sterilize deer, DeNicola said that, with the cooperation of police, the most effective means would be to drive down each of the streets south of Anderson Road (most of South Euclid’s deer are living north of Mayfield Road) between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. and shoot darts at each deer. The darts would contain a sedative and tracking devices that would allow trackers to know where they have headed.

“We then put a mask on (the deer), secure it, put it on a stretcher, then we manually carry those deer out and bring them to a central location,” he said. That central location can be a veterinary clinic or maintenance facility with sterile equipment. “We perform our surgical procedures in those locations. We have licensed vets that perform the procedure. They get pain killers and anti-inflammation drugs, antibiotics. And then we bring (the deer) back to where they were captured, roughly, and put them in a safe area, where there’s water and no traffic. Those deer recover from the anesthesia, just like a human does, and off they go.” The surgical method has a 1-2-percent mortality rate for deer, he said.

DeNicola said that, through bow hunting, perhaps 20 percent of the deer can be captured, but that through the dart/surgical method he described, he can capture 100 percent of the city’s deer. “I can sterilize all of the females, and then you’ll have no reproduction, and then you’re going to have a 20-percent (normal) annual mortality rate. So, if we eliminate reproduction, and the deer die, that’s where we incur our population decline.

“So you literally can have greater impact by not killing the deer, believe it or not, counterintuitive as it is, only because we can treat every animal, whereas with lethal methods, you’re limited as to what percentage of the population you’re going to, what we call, engage.”

South Euclid Police Chief Kevin Nietert asked Monday that the resident hunting method be removed from the table because cities such as Parma Heights and Aurora require a minimum of five acres upon which to hunt, while Orange require eight acres. South Euclid is a densely populated city with few large properties upon which to shoot.

After explaining the surgical method, however, DeNicola said that in the area around Nine Mile Creek, culling would be the most effective method used, either by hunting or sharpshooting. “That type of big block, we’ll call it a woods, is very hard for fertility control,” he said.

The cost of using surgical sterilization is about $1,000 per deer, but its effectiveness means that little will have to be done in the immediately following years.

“Each year (after the sterilization surgeries take place) you’re just making sure you don’t have any residual pregnant females, any few immigrants coming into the community that will reproduce,” DeNicola said. He added that in a similar project in Cincinnati, less than five females will be handled a year after the sterilization surgeries.

Simon, who spoke briefly during the meeting, is attempting to gain funding to help communities, including Richmond Heights and Beachwood, within her County Council District use sterilization. Simon said she would like District 11 to serve as a model to other regions in terms of finding a long-term solution to the deer population problem.

Ward 4 Councilwoman Jane Goodman asked why bucks, since there are fewer of them, cannot instead be sterilized. DeNicola said that bucks wander much farther than do female deer, who typically stay within a 50-100-acre area. Bucks, he said, can wander 10-15 miles during the course of their travels. DeNicola said the buck sterilization program fared best on Staten Island because it is an island and the bucks had limited space to roam.

Ward 3 Councilwoman Sara Continenza, who chairs the committee, said that she has been researching using a multi-faceted approach. She said that the next step would be figuring the costs of sterilization/contraception and culling.

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