YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – This Monday, the board of park commissioners for Mill Creek MetroParks is expected to make a decision about deer culling. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) has approved two ways of lowering the deer population: sharpshooting and hunting. Both include killing the deer.
It’s a controversial issue, with many parkgoers saying they don’t want the deer to be harmed. Some have suggested a form of birth control for the deer called immunocontraception, but it’s not approved for deer population management in Ohio. We spoke with a wildlife expert with ODNR to find out why.
Mill Creek Park is known for its albino deer. Currently, there are at least three of them in the park. These beloved albino and other color-phase deer are not to be harmed if the park allows hunting or sharpshooting.
Geoff Westerfield works for ODNR to help control deer populations.
“Any park district or community that kills deer would rather, I’m sure, not do that,” he said.
Scientists have been studying immunocontraception in deer since at least the early 1990s. It’s a kind of birth control that uses the animal’s immune system to keep her from getting pregnant.
Several immunocontraception vaccines are approved for use in white-tail deer by the federal government. Some can be administered through a blow dart. In others, the animal has to be captured.
In Ohio, these vaccines can only be used as part of an official research project.
“The research that’s going on in south Euclid, that research project is looking at fertility control alongside lethal control,” Westerfield said.
Mill Creek MetroParks currently doesn’t have such a research project, but one has been done in Cleveland MetroParks.
“They did the research. It wasn’t getting them to where they needed to be… If fertility control worked, they would go back to that,” Westerfield said.
Three studies outside Ohio have shown strong evidence that these vaccines can decrease the deer population — The National Institute of Standards and Technology in Maryland, Fire Island National Seashore in New York and Fripp Island in South Carolina.
The one in Maryland showed a 50% decrease in deer population over six years.
Westerfield says the areas of those studies are very different terrain than the Mill Creek MetroParks.
“The situations where it has shown to be effective, at least in not increasing the population, is those isolated situations where they’re fenced or on an island,” Westerfield said.
The deer in Mill Creek Park aren’t trapped by a natural barrier and can move fairly freely in and out of the park. Westerfield says new fertile deer can move into the park, birth fawns and continue to grow the population.