Island in NC Considering Use of New Contraceptives to Cull Deer Pop.

--Dave Maccar

The residents of the affluent Bald Head Island in North Carolina have decided something must be done to cull its whitetail deer population in 2012, but they are looking for alternatives to hiring hunters with firearms. Instead, they are examining an "immunocontraception" program developed at North Carolina State University that would be administered via dart and prevent does from becoming pregnant. But it wouldn't be cheap, potentially costing residents $75,000 a year for five years.

From this story in the StarNews of Wilmington:
_...Instead of hiring someone to reduce the deer population with firearms, village officials are considering a dart-administered form of contraception that prevents females from becoming pregnant.

"There has to be some way of taking down the population next year," Village Manager Calvin Peck said.

The island's deer population stands at about 180, what Peck calls the "upper limit" for what the Bald Head Island Conservancy considers a viable number of animals. A population above 180 would cause excessive damage to the maritime forest and create health-related hardships on the animals, Peck said.

The "immunocontraception" program developed at N.C. State is still in the exploratory stage but may be well suited to conditions on Bald Head Island. A few outside deer might swim there, but the natives aren't going anywhere, Peck said.
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_"They've got it good here, and they recognize that," he said.

Hunting is banned on Bald Head Island, whose affluent residents occupy about 2,000 acres of the 12,000-acre island.

The remainder is set aside as nature preserves, and white-tailed deer have taken full advantage of the situation.

"It's a healthy population. They're doing well. They're very active," Peck said. It's not uncommon for a doe to give birth to twins on the island, an indication of the good forage available there.

The survival rate in eastern North Carolina for deer is about 0.8 fawns per doe, said Robbie Norville, coastal region supervising biologist with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. Culling is rare in most sections of the coast, but it becomes necessary when hunting is not allowed, Norville said.

"There are some gated communities operating under depredation permits and have hunters come in," he said. That's the case with Bald Head Island, which conducted six herd culls between 2000 and 2008. The deer population was so excessive in 2000 more than 200 animals were removed from the herd "and the population was still healthy," Peck said.

Contraceptives in the general deer population have not proven effective, Norville said. "It would only work in a closed setting, like a pen where animals are tightly controlled," he said. "In an open system where the deer fully move and go there is no delivery method that is effective enough and proficient enough to deliver a contraceptive to each and every deer, and it is highly expensive."

The cost is about $500 per animal, Norville said.

Bald Head Island budgeted money in its current budget for deer culling, but won't begin the process until 2012, Peck said. The 2008 cull, which took about 90 deer, cost the village $35,000.

The company hired by the village used methods that are illegal for hunters. "They use .22 caliber low-powered rifles on an elevated stand," near a baited area, and track the deer by night with spotlights, Peck said.

As in most communities, there is opposition to hunting of any type, and others who are vehemently pro-hunting. Whether by deer contraception methods or by firearm, "We will have to do it in January 2012," Peck said of the herd cull.

If contraceptives are used, Bald Head Island would have to pay $75,000 a year for five years and participate in a study being conducted by N.C. State, Peck said._