Saturday, January 28th, 2023
Saturday, January 28th, 2023

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Deer culling necessary in some cities

By Mark Tuscano Contributing Writer

Solon, Ohio — The deer population in northern Ohio’s suburban
areas has grown unchecked for decades and now many municipalities
and park districts must take extreme measures – including culling –
to protect the public safety.

Problems are on the rise where suburbanites and park districts
have created gardens and wild places amid metropolitan bedroom
communities. Those efforts have also made inviting habitat for
large populations of deer.

“We have created an all-fringe environment where (deer) seem to
thrive,” said Dave Hromco, assistant director of public works for
the city of Solon in largely metropolitan Cuyahoga County.

So much so, Hromco said, that residents have reported watching
their children playing in fenced yards with a small herd of deer
browsing only a few steps away. Deer/vehicle collisions on city
streets are mounting in this decade with the numbers climbing into
the hundreds annually. The number of accidents increased nearly
eight times in a 20-year period through 2003.

The eating habits of a large deer population (estimated at 44
per square mile in Solon) also raised the concern of Cleveland
Metroparks Emerald Necklace chain of parks managers, said Assistant
Wildlife Management Supervisor Damon Greer of Division of Wildlife
District 3 in Akron.

Greer has been dealing with a number of municipalities recently
that have experienced deer population problems. So when Solon,
Cleveland Metroparks and several other local government entities
came to him for a solution, Greer studied the situations and
advised the local officials on population control approaches.

Some of the park districts could simply open remote areas to
hunters, but that was not an option for most suburban cities, he
said. After an extensive study, the City of Solon agreed to hire a
professional service last year to reduce the deer population.

“It boiled down to professional management practices,” Hromco
said of Solon’s solution.

The Division of Wildlife granted Solon a nuisance permit last
year and sharpshooters began culling the herd in mid-February.
Within about a month, they had taken 602 deer out of the city,
which helped reduce deer/vehicle collisions last year by 25 percent
from 2004.

This year, the Division of Wildlife has issued permits to take
an additional 350 deer, but not without resistance from some city
residents who had plans to bait the deer away from the culling
operation.

In response, the city passed an ordinance Dec. 29 making it
illegal to feed deer while the culling operation is in progress.
Hromco said most city residents understand the goal of the plan and
respect the city’s approach. The property damage is apparent and
the solution seems to be working, he said.

Alternatively, the Cleveland Metroparks’ Emerald Necklace chain
of parks, which surround the city in an array of outlying
communities, has taken an experimental approach in certain
situations. It involves deer fertility control, but that has not
yet proved effective.

While the Metroparks’ management has also participated in the
bait and shoot approach at the district’s Brecksville, Rocky River,
and North Chagrin reservations, there are certain areas where
fertility control may prove effective.

“The Metroparks cull deer for the purpose of biodiversity,”
Greer said. “(Deer) are impacting the understory of the forest
structure where they eat everything and destroy the habitat of
other wildlife and are eliminating rare and endangered plant
species.”

But where there are isolated pockets of deer, the fertility
control approach is being tested. The method begins with the
capture of about 90 percent of the doe population. The does are
administered a pig vaccine that is intended to suppress their
reproductive system. The method has been largely ineffective so
far, Greer said. The deer vaccinated in 2004 were already carrying
last spring’s young so for the experiment to run its course it may
take four or five more years before biologists can form a
conclusion.

The follow up to the initial inoculation called for the doe to
be recaptured. They needed a booster shot and blood was drawn from
each deer for lab testing to measure the effect of the initial
vaccine.

The experiment isn’t just labor intensive; it’s costly and
subject to variables. For one thing, Greer estimated the cost of
immunizing 100 doe is about $450,000, or about $4,500 per deer. And
if the population is joined at any time by does from other
populations, the data and the effort may be wasted.

“This is not at all an option for free-roaming deer,” he said.
“Right now, the approach is approved for research only. The deer in
the study are sacrificed for research and disposed of. None of the
vaccinated deer are used for consumption.”

The deer taken by professional services or Metroparks rangers in
the culling operations are harvested and the meat is donated to
food banks, Greer said.

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