The US has 100 times more deer today than it did 100 years ago. That’s a good thing, whether you like wildlife watching or enjoy venison, but it has brought challenges, such as deer-car collisions, which damage property and can even kill people. But another challenge is environmental.
All those deer eat vegetation—3,000 pounds a year per animal. This can have a detrimental effect on the flora, as Al Cambrone writes in The Wall Street Journal, and the fauna—more deer means fewer songbirds.
What to do about the exploding deer population? Wildlife expert Jim Sterba details in his book “Nature Wars” how wildlife management draws the concerns of many different parties, and even draws odd political alliances, as localities try to figure out what to do. Bow hunting and private sharpshooters are two options, with the meat being donated to local food banks, though killing deer certainly has detractors. Instead of complaining, though, they do offer an alternative.
Animal rights groups ideologically opposed to hunting, such as the Humane Society of the United States, have proposed deer “birth control” as a “humane” means of dealing with deer overpopulation. Cambrone, however, points out the impracticality of HSUS’s preferred (and seemingly only) way of managing deer:
Some environmentalists, especially in urban areas, oppose hunting to cull the herds and argue instead for deer “birth control.” Yet contrary to persistent urban legend, there’s no handy oral deer contraceptive we can slip into a pile of acorns. Nor is there a permanent contraceptive that can be delivered with a single shot from a dart gun. Currently available immunocontraceptive agents have no effect on 10%-15% of the treated does. Even when they’re effective the first year, booster shots are needed in subsequent years.
Then, too, it’s difficult to inject enough does in a large, free-roaming population—and more difficult still to inject each one repeatedly, right on schedule. Even if we could, all those deer would still be present for years—still eating, still wandering out into traffic, and every day welcoming their fertile new friends arriving from nearby. The most optimistic cost estimates for each injection are around $500 per deer. Even surgical sterilization has been tried in a few locales. Although it costs over $1,000 per deer, it is 100% reliable and permanent.
That’s a significant cost to taxpayers. In D.C.’s Rock Creek Park, for instance, HSUS wanted taxpayers to foot half the bill of deer birth control to the tune of $340,000. (The National Park Service was against HSUS’s proposal.) HSUS offered to chip in the other half, but for a group with $20 million-plus in Caribbean hedge funds, HSUS really should have offered to fund the whole experiment.
That’s just one park in one city. Imagine HSUS’s proposal for 30 million deer, and you get the idea why these proposals sound great, and may well work in isolated spots like islands or fenced-in areas, but can’t be taken seriously as national or local policy. Just ask the folks in Hastings-on-Hudson, NY—they’ve managed to tag only 8 deer. Consider the deer, but also consider the deer’s effects on flora and fauna.