Controversy persists over Mount Lebanon deer cull

Pittsburgh — It may be the only time hunters and PETA see eye to eye, but both have sharply criticized a suburban Pittsburgh community’s deer-culling initiative.

Concerned with the size of the local herd, commissioners for the largely affluent township of Mount Lebanon have approved a controversial plan to bait and trap deer in 8-by-8-foot corrals, and have them shot at close range.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission approved the township’s culling permit, which is effective through August. The township has contracted with Wildlife Specialists LLC of Wellsboro in Tioga County to kill 150 deer this late-winter and spring, at a cost of $500 per animal.

The venison will be given to a food bank.

Although the goal is to reduce deer-motorist collisions and property damage, the plan has drawn criticism from township residents who think the cull is inhumane and from archers who would rather see a controlled hunt within the community. Some have even suggested trucking the deer to forests in the northern tier.

Hunter William Glass of Washington, Pa., called Mount Lebanon’s approach wasteful. “We are blessed with many areas like the Allegheny National Forest and large tracts of state game lands where those deer could be taken,” he said in a letter to Pennsylvania Outdoor News. “Why hasn’t someone offered a solution that does not include slaughtering the deer? It could not cost more than what (Mount Lebanon) is paying.”

Unified Sportsmen of Pennsylvania President Randy Santucci said the hunters he knows wanted a controlled hunt, adding that archers in Mount Lebanon and other suburbs have been quietly killing deer for years.

“Most hunters don’t like hearing about a cull,” said Santucci, who addressed a township meeting on the plan. “We don’t bait in Pennsylvania, and fair chase is strong in the minds of most sportsmen.

“Maybe archery wouldn’t have been effective at reducing the number of deer, but if Mount Lebanon had exhausted that option then even if it hadn’t worked, the sporting community might have found the cull more acceptable.”

Because deer have been an issue in Mount Lebanon for so long, said Santucci, “the urgency to go straight to a cull is a little puzzling.”

According to the Game Commission, Mount Lebanon did initially explore a regulated hunt involving public works employees, but abandoned the idea, and there were no doe tags available, anyway.

Obtaining a culling permit is fairly simple and permits are issued without judgment, said Chris Rosenberry, the commission biologist who supervises the agency’s elk and deer programs. 

“It’s up to every community to determine whether deer are a problem and how to handle that,” said Rosenberry. “The issues are community values issues, and there is no place for us as a state agency to tell communities what their values should be.” 

He said the commission always encourages hunting when it can be done, and regulated hunts have been successful in the southeastern part of the state. “But they’re a lot of work,” he said. “They require a lot of cooperation among people of different values within the same community.”

Some people may struggle more with the prospect of seeing an archery-shot deer in their backyard than with a cull, said Rosenberry, who suggested there aren’t many feasible alternatives. 

Cornell University in New York has used surgical sterilization of does to limit a campus herd, but that approach might not be practical for other communities, Rosenberry said. “It would slow population growth, but you’d still get the impacts of the animals, and does can live a long time – 13 years or more.”

Transferring deer to big woods is out of the question, because of the potential to spread chronic wasting disease, he said. “That’s a huge concern to us.”

In recent weeks, Mount Lebanon officials learned they had to revise some cull sites because they were found to be too close to schools, while others proposed for areas near assisted living facilities prompted concern about upsetting elderly residents who enjoy looking at the deer. It wasn’t clear how this would affect the cull schedule.

Animal rights activists have repeatedly picketed in front of the township building, with another demonstration slated for March 10, and they are circulating petitions to try to prevent the cull. 

“Mount Lebanon is in a bind,” said Santucci. “But I think there are going to be more ‘Mount Lebanons’ in the future, because the suburban deer problem is only going to grow.”

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