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Thursday, December 26, 2013

Fairfax City approves sterilization program to curb deer population

A deer in Annandale Community Park.

The City of Fairfax has approved a pilot program for humanely controlling the deer population by removing the ovaries from females, but don’t expect Fairfax County to do this any time soon.

Getting the program underway has been a huge bureaucratic nightmare, said  Anthony J. DiNicola, a wildlife ecologist who has been hired by the City of Fairfax to capture female deer and sterilize them by surgically removing their ovaries. For one thing, the Commonwealth of Virginia is interpreting this program under the definition of hunting, and there’s no hunting ordinance in Fairfax City, he said. “That’s just one little headache in trying to make this work. There’s so much aggravation.”

The procedure costs $1,000 per deer, and the City of Fairfax Program is privately funded. Fairfax County’s entire deer management budget is just $40,000 a year, he said.

DiNicola is the co-founder and president of White Buffalo, a nonprofit organization that has undertaken deer sterilization projects in the Ithaca, N.Y., area; suburban St. Louis, Mo.; San Jose, Calif.; and Baltimore County, Md.   

DiNicola’s methods involve shooting a doe with a tranquilizer dart, finding it, bringing it to a field station, anesthetizing it, and removing the ovaries. The surgery is done by trained veterinarians, and it only takes 11 minutes. The does are given painkillers before they are released, and they recover quickly.

It will take a couple of years to see if this approach is successful. Sterilized deer will be tagged, so researchers will know where they go. Deer in Vienna will be used as a control group in the study. About 10 to 20 percent of the deer in an area are expected to die each year, so eventually the population will decline.

DiNicola estimates there are only 50 to 75 deer in Fairfax City, but he told the city council that if nothing is done now, the population will soar. So it’s better to intervene before it becomes a major problem. In densely populated areas like Fairfax City, nonlethal methods like sterilization are safer and more effective than killing deer.

Fairfax County’s deer management program mostly uses bow hunting—and sharpshooting in more rural areas—to reduce the deer population. This year, bow hunting has been expanded to several Annandale parks near densely populated neighborhoods. A group of hunters has been suspended from the archery program for violating county rules following an incident in November in Heywood Glen Park.

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