COMMENTARY BY DR. DAVE SAMUEL
In October 2019, I wrote about the deer problem on Staten Island. Actually, I wrote about the huge money that Mayor Bill de Blasio has been spending to solve their problem. And they do have a problem with deer with car-deer collisions, Lyme disease, shrub damage, etc. On about 19 square miles a survey done in late 2016 showed over 2,000 deer. Although there are many small parks and other areas where an urban bowhunt might be done, de Blasio decided against it.
If they didn’t want an urban bowhunting similar to the one we have in Morgantown, another option would be to hire paid sharpshooters, shooting at night from tree stands in small forested pockets of land. That could be done and at a relatively modest cost. Instead, the city hired a consulting firm to capture and attempt to sterilize all bucks living in the 19-square mile area, thinking that would solve the problem. Darting deer with tranquilizers, or capturing deer, then sterilizing them through minor surgery is very expensive.
The initial goal of sterilization was to lower the population by 10-30%. There were 2,053 deer in late 2016, and after 720 bucks were sterilized in 2017, and 434 in 2018, the count dropped to 1,737 in 2019. That’s a 15% decrease and based on that the chief of wildlife education for the city’s Department of Parks and Wildlife felt that progress was being made with the sterilization approach. I’ll add that there were 99 deer-car collisions in 2017 and that dropped to 77 in 2019. Lyme disease cases dropped from 124 in 2017 to 88 in 2018. It appears that the lower deer numbers were also causing lower car collisions and less Lyme disease.
By June 2019, the researchers doing the work estimated they’d sterilized 98% of all living bucks. I never dreamed that was possible, but they apparently did that. By 2020, the herd dropped another 10.4% to 1,555. More progress. Reported fawn births were down by 84% so again, sterilization on a big scale is working to lower fawn births. When all this started, I thought the sterilization idea was laughable. I still think the huge expense does not justify the approach and 99% of wildlife biologists agree. The reason is the cost when other options are available.
Surely, it can’t be that expensive. Hmm. The cost for the first three years was to be $3.3 million, but it went up to $4.1 million because more deer were found than expected. They did, however, sterilize 720 bucks. One report was that the cost to do that was about $2,800 per deer. Now that’s a huge expense. If we used that approach in Morgantown and sterilized 100 deer (we harvest about that many a year), the cost would be $280,000 a year. Wow.
Because of the sterilization “success,” in early 2020 New York City approved another $2.5 million for five more years of vasectomies of bucks. However, the pandemic hit New York City as it did the whole world, and everything financial took a huge hit. Thus, in July 2020, the city announced it was eliminating the sterilization program for a year. That would save the city around $700,000, but de Blasio got the money restored and the sterilization will continue. Businesses, restaurants, etc., are going broke, and the city continues to spend $700,000 a year to sterilize bucks. Where else could that happen without a huge public outcry?
Even though a bipartisan group of elected officials favored a controlled cull hunt, de Blasio just plods along. Here is my perspective on what will happen in the future. The deer get to Staten Island somehow. They probably swim the river from New Jersey, but no one knows how many deer do that every year. Will enough bucks make that swim to offset the number sterilized and mate does at a rate that will keep the population around 1,500? Only time (and money) will tell.
One other thing. There are still lots of deer alive on the island. The bucks are only being sterilized and not killed. No does are being killed. All those does and bucks can still bring Lyme disease to citizens, cause some car accidents, and still damage yards. A big deer cull to kill deer would have to be done every few years to keep deer populations down. But the costs would be far cheaper than the sterilization program. I’m guessing a deer cull could lower deer numbers to less than 500.
Can you imagine Morgantown taking this ridiculous and costly approach to our deer problem? Right now, I believe Morgantown spends $1,500 to get killed deer butchered to give to our shelters. There are probably some other minimal administrative costs, but hunters do the rest. Yes, it is a yearly event that will continue, but it is totally safe, deer/car collisions are down, yard damage has decreased, and although I have no data, I’ll assume Lyme disease incidents in places like South Park are also down. Of course, we could always have a questionable, extremely costly, sterilization program like the folks in New York City.
Appendum: A friend moving tree stands this past week got lots of ticks. Yes, even when temperatures are in the low 20s, ticks are out there. If you walk in leaves, brush, etc., spray your boots and pants with something that has permethrin in it and that will prevent ticks. You can’t put permethrin on your skin, but it really works on clothes and shoes. Be careful out there.