Here's how some communities are controlling the deer population -- without killing them

Posted at 7:53 AM, Jun 29, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-29 10:00:58-04

FORT THOMAS, Ky. -- Animal remains, the result of deer-vehicle crashes, dot the roadsides in Campbell County.

They're evidence of the deer overpopulation. And as the population grows, so do the number of crashes they cause.

The city of Fort Thomas has been addressing the issue through a bow hunting program that allows residents to hunt within the city limits under a strict set of guidelines. Fort Thomas created the program, the first of its kind in the state, to address overpopulation and reduce deer-vehicle encounters.

While bow hunting seems to be keeping population growth to a minimum -- hundreds of deer have been killed since its inception -- it is doing little to reduce vehicle crashes.

According to a report presented to Fort Thomas City Council in February, the number of vehicle crashes involving deer is on the rise, peaking at 27 in 2013 and settling at 22 in 2016.

“There is obviously a large population, and we are not certain that the rate of removal is significant enough to impact the vehicle-deer issue,” said Ron Dill, Fort Thomas city administrative officer. “We are continuously working with other communities and Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife to review potential adjustments that may work in urban areas such as Fort Thomas. There are no pending changes under consideration, but we review our program annually.”

Campbell County is not alone in racking up deer-related crashes. Deer overcrowding has become a problem nationwide with the United States white-tailed deer population now reaching more than 20 million.

Deer populations are no longer held in check by natural predators, and neighborhoods can become perfect deer habitats with yards, parks, golf courses and roadside landscaping providing desirable meals.

Field cameras captured deer at bait stations during field operations in Cincinnati's Clifton neighborhood. (Photo provided)

Damage to yards and the destruction or eradication of local flora are a bigger concern to many cities than deer-related crashes. The nuisance factor, combined with a significant number of collisions with deer, caused Fort Mitchell City Council to consider its own hunting program on multiple occasions.

The legislation has never gone to a vote. Police Chief Col. Andrew Schierberg encourages residents to take precautions and remember that deer are wild animals.

Deer naturally eat vegetation including tree seedlings and local wildflowers. Having too many deer in an area can lead to seriously diminished undergrowth, limit the future forest canopy and permanently damage the ecosystem.

It was these environmental issues that spurred the city of Cincinnati to allow bow hunting in 10 city parks. Over the course of 10 years, the program has shown a reduction in the deer population in Mount Airy. However, the trend for most parks shows that the number of deer removed is quickly replaced through reproduction, and there has been no significant increase or decrease in the population.

The program, which has culled 1,354 deer from the 10 parks, started with sharpshooters from the Cincinnati police. After two years, the city added the bow hunting program.

In addition to the hunting program, Cincinnati's Clifton neighborhood operates a separate deer management program. A group of residents who objected to expanding the hunting initiative started the Clifton Deer Fertility Control Pilot Program in 2015. It is the city's first non-lethal deer control program.

The program involves tranquilizing female deer, sterilizing them while they are under sedation and returning then to the spot where they were taken before they wake up.

“It sounds funny when you hear bout sterilizing deer, and yet it seems to be a long-term solution,” said Christine Lottman, one of the organization’s founders.

The first year of data showed a reduction in population of 16 percent, more than the team had envisioned. A total of 51 does have been sterilized during the program’s two years of operation. Lottman and her fellow founders, Laurie Briggs and Bob Rack, aren’t willing to speculate on future reductions. They continue to research other methodologies and migration patterns, trying to determine if this is the best solution for their area.

Still, they said they're are delighted with the initial figures.

“The problem with bow hunting is that it is really hard to do more than make up for the new births. It is hard to really make a serious reduction, and you can never stop killing. We are tackling the root of the problem, and it has the potential to be a more long-term solution,” said Briggs.

Anyone who strikes a deer with their vehicle should call the police to file a police report and initiate the necessary steps to remove the animal from the road.