NY Town Opts to Use Birth Control Drugs, Not Hunting, to Reduce Deer Numbers

Hastings-on-Hudson, a small New York town north of the Bronx border, plans to begin controlling the community's growing deer problem with a nontraditional strategy--birth control.

A New York Times article says the town has decided to work with Tuft's University's Center for Animals and Public Policy to become the first suburb in the U.S. to control deer through a process called immunocontraception, which uses the animal's immune system to prevent it from fertilizing offspring.

The center's director, Dr. Allen T. Rutberg, says the core area -- approximately two square miles in size -- contains 70 to 120 deer when it should hold 5 to 15. He hopes to enlist the help of resident volunteers from time to time. The project already has an estimated cost of $30,000 for the first two years. Animal rights groups have donated $12,000 to the effort.

"Hastings will be challenging," Rutberg said. "From a research perspective, islands make good subjects because you have some control over what goes on there. But if we really want to see if it will work in contexts where it matters, then we need more open communities, and Hastings will be the first one. The success of the project will depend at least as much on the deer as on us."

Regarded by some to be a progressive town, Hastings' Mayor Peter Swiderski, other town leaders, and a majority of residents vehemently denounced more conventional methods like hunting and netting (and then dispatching animals with a captive bolt like those used in slaughterhouses) to quell deer numbers.

"Deer have entered our backyards and essentially become unruly guests," Rutberg said. "We are bound by suburban rules in dealing with them, and violence is not how we deal with neighbors we don't like."

CC image from Flickr