Monday, May 12, 2008

Game Commission Regional Supervisor on Controlling Deer Population: Hunting is Still Best Option

By MARGARET GIBBONS , Times Herald Staff

COURTHOUSE — Hunting remains the most realistic solution in cutting down the large numbers of hungry deer plaguing the suburban counties, according to a Pennsylvania Game Commission official.

While many may have expected the game commission to say just that, “we are no longer just all about hunt, hunt, hunt,” game commission Regional Supervisor John Morgan told members of the Montgomery County Planning Commission at their recent board meeting.

“We have really studied this issue and given a lot of thought to it and it may take a combination of measures to have the desired result,” said Morgan.

One of the so-called “tools” in the creation of a deer management plan calls for habitat modification.

“However, if you have green, you will have deer,” said Morgan. “You would have to pave over the entire county.”
There are landscaping alternatives to discourage browsing deer, according to Morgan.

“The trouble with this is that there are very few species that deer do not love,” said Morgan. “Deer, like people, like the more showy, the more flowering types of planting.”

The use of repellents, whether homemade repellents such as soap and hair in nylon bags or commercial products, for the most part have little or just minimum success, said Morgan.

“Some may work but be skeptical and do some research and remember that deer are really adaptable,” said Morgan.

Another “tool” is a regulation barring people from feeding deer.

“People really like watching animals and birds feed and they believe they are helping out but most times they are just congregating larger numbers of animals who may just mosey over on your neighbor’s lawn to eat,” he said.

Also, Morgan noted, deer feeding bans are unpopular with the public and often are difficult to enforce.

Barrier fencing is another option.

“But those fences would have to be at least eight feet tall because deer can jump a 6-foot-high fence,” said Morgan, adding that these fences also are expensive, permanent and not really aesthetically pleasing.

Electric fencing and the use of fright techniques, such as loud noise, are also options.

The problem with all of these measures, even if they are successful, is that they just cause the deer to move elsewhere and really do nothing to reduce the over-population, according to Morgan.

Two measures targeting over-population is “the really hot topic” of fertility control and trap-and-relocate proposals, said Morgan.

The use of so-called “bio-bullets” to prevent fertility is expensive — some $500 to $1,300 a deer when the costs of personnel and transportation are added, according to Morgan.

The anti-fertility drugs have an effectiveness rate of about 75 percent to 80 percent the first year, dropping to between 40 percent to 50 percent the second year, he said.

Also, there is no approved anti-fertility drug for wildlife populations, primarily because these treated animals remain in the wild and could be eaten at a later date by humans or even other wild animals, said Morgan.

“The bottom line is that this method is expensive, with a not all that great efficiency rate, with drugs that are not approved and could take 10 years or more before it impacts the size of a herd,” said Morgan.

The trap-and-relocate measure is expensive, costing between $380 to $2,900 a deer, he said. It also is very stressful for the deer and there is a high mortality rate among deer that are relocated, according to Morgan.

“Those who support this option over hunting may just be sentencing these deer to death anyway,” said Morgan.

The most economic and successful method of reducing a large deer population is by hunting whether that hunting occurs during the state’s hunting season, through controlled community-managed hunts or the hiring of sharpshooters, said Morgan.

“There is just no easy answer to this problem,” said county planning commission Director Kenneth B. Hughes.

The county planners brought Morgan in in response to the findings in a draft Natural Areas Inventory that is being prepared in behalf of the county.

One of those findings is that deer browsing by an over-abundance of deer in the county is destroying natural resources and habitats. That report, which has not yet been finalized or adopted, recommends that the county open its own parks to additional hunting.

The county currently conducts annual controlled hunts in the Norristown Farm Park that straddles Norristown, East Norriton and West Norriton and in Lorimer Park in Abington Township.

Margaret Gibbons can be reached at or 610-272-2501 ext. 216.

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