Things are getting interesting on the deer management front.
Last month, Fairfax City officials signed off on a pilot program to control the deer population by removing the ovaries from females. Under the program, does are anesthetized using a dart and then transported to a central area where veterinarians perform surgery.
According to the program’s director, Dr. Anthony DiNicola of White Buffalo, Inc., the animals are in surgery for about 11 minutes and efforts are made to ensure that they don’t feel pain during or after the procedure. All of the deer receive an ear tag to mark that they have been captured, and a few are given radio collars so researchers can continue to track their movements.
DiNicola, who estimates that 50 to 75 deer currently reside in Fairfax City, said the procedure costs about $1,000 per deer.
City officials have taken their share of heat — both locally and nationally — since introducing their plan. Some criticized the program’s cost, while others questioned its effectiveness.
On the cost front, DiNicola says he was able to cut the costs in half for a deer sterilization program in Maryland by securing volunteer assistance from local veterinarians. It’s also worth noting that the program will be funded by a grant — not city or taxpayer funds.
As far as the program’s effectiveness, similar programs in California, Missouri and New York have resulted in a 10 percent annual reduction of the deer herd.
With such a large deer population in many parts of Fairfax County — some county parks are believed to contain more than 200 deer per square mile — implementing Fairfax City’s sterilization program across a 407-square-mile county probably isn’t realistic from a cost standpoint.
At the moment, Fairfax County’s deer management program relies mostly on managed hunts at area parks. Last year, bow hunters with the Fairfax County Archery Program harvested 697 deer from 21 park sites.
Given that 40,000 to 50,000 deer currently live in Fairfax or that the county averages 4,000 to 5,000 deer-vehicle collisions per year, new strategies are badly needed to manage a deer population that no longer can be classified as a simple nuisance.
Between car accidents, environmental damage and the growing incidence of Lyme disease in our region, deer are costing Fairfax families money, health and, in many cases, peace of mind.
Local officials would be wise to assess all of those issues without bias of emotion.
Fairfax City officials certainly deserve credit for attacking their deer management challenge with a nonlethal strategy that’s largely funded with private money.
Going forward, we encourage Fairfax County and other jurisdictions across the region to continue exploring effective new options for an age-old problem.