Town and Country, MO – Despite the steady push of humans into natural areas, whitetail deer have adapted and in some cases even flourished in suburban environments, free of predators and hunters. The situation often puts deer and humans in direct conflict. That is precisely the issue confronting the St. Louis suburb of Town and Country.
But instead of simply killing the deer, the city decided to capture and sterilize a number of does. Joel Porath is a Wildlife Regional Supervisor for the Missouri Department of Conservation. Just like humans, he says whitetails are adapting quiet well to the cul du sac lifestyle.
"They have all the food resources, they don't have hunting and they don't really have predators," says Porath, "so it's mainly vehicles that kill them in communities like this."
"The main thing was danger people we're getting a lot of car accidents," says Lynn Wright. Wright sits on Town and Country's board of aldermen. Despite the accidents she says many folks liked seeing the deer around.
"But when you start going from 2 or 3, to seeing 10 or 12 in the backyard you do start getting concerned about that," concedes Wright.
In addition to frequent car accidents, Wright says residents also complained about damage to ornamental plants and trees. Still, many people resisted the most accessible idea to simply hire sharpshooters.
Instead, the town opted for both nonlethal and lethal methods. Town and Country contracted with White Buffalo Inc. to kill 100 deer with sharpshooters and sterilize another 100.
The tranquilized deer were brought to Steve Timm. Timm is a veterinarian with White Buffalo. "We've got two does coming in," said Timm late one evening as he set up shop in a small 8 by 16 foot trailer. "We're going to sterilize them by removing ovaries."
When the does arrive they're hoisted on to an operating table, shaved and prepped for surgery. It takes about 20 minutes for him to locate and remove the deer's ovaries. He uses a cauterizing device to prevent excessive bleeding. After he's finished, the deer are stapled up, fitted with reflective collars, revived and released. Unburdened from the stress of reproduction, Timm says the sterilized deer could live as long as 12 years.
"The early information suggests, that if there are some deer in the environment, especially our sterile does, the other deer have less tendency to move in," says Timm.
But not everyone in Town and Country backs the sterilization approach. Joe Williamson is a retired doctor. He moved to Town and Country in the 1970s, primarily so that he and his wife could indulge their hobby for gardening, a passion he's all but given up on these days.
"This is a good example of antler rubs, this is called Staghorn Sumac," says Williamson as he points to a patch of sumac trunks that have been laid bare down to the wood. "The bucks rub their antlers on here and they break them off, you see all these it's just wrecked."
Williamson says sterilization does nothing to solve the immediate problem of "too many deer". It's also much more expensive. Town and Country paid White Buffalo $150,000 to sterilize 112 does and kill another 100.
But, Joel Porath of the MDC says there are no simple solutions to please everyone.
"Everybody wants the silver bullet where they can swoop in and solve their deer problem once and for all and never have to do it again, that doesn't happen," says Porath. "Could you imagine if we stopped allowing deer hunting in the state? You know we kill around 300,000 deer each year and it doesn't take very long for the population to jump back up. So, they do need to continue to do something in Town and Country down the road."
This coming spring Porath says the department should have enough data to see if the sterilizations are reducing numbers. If it works, and the population doesn't immediately bounce back, Porath says the procedure may be put to use in other suburban areas around St. Louis.
Capturing Deer in Town and Country(Missouri Department of Conservation video)