For years, the Cornell campus and surrounding areas have played host to an overabundant population of deer — and many feel the time has come to draw the line. In an effort to reduce the negative impacts associated with deer over-population, the Department of Natural Resources, in cooperation with several other organizations has decided to undertake the Cornell University Integrated Deer Research and Management Study.
“In a nut shell, what we’re doing is trying to manage the deer population to bring it within the biological and social carrying capacity of the land,” said Dr. Jay Boulanger, extension associate and deer program coordinator.
According to Boulanger, the primary concerns associated with the deer over-population include a large number of deer-vehicle accidents, as well as crop and ornamental damage.
Boulanger emphasized the damage to plant collections in the Arboretum and the Botanical Gardens, two regions praised for their natural beauty. He also mentioned the adverse effects the deer had on natural [img_assist|nid=27964|title=Carrying capacity|desc=Brittany Mosher ’09 and Amy Bleisch ’10 track deer yesterday in an effort to control the overabundant deer population on campus and in the surrounding areas.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]areas and research plots.
In their endeavor, the team plans to not only address these problems, but also to take advantage of the negative situation at hand.
According to Dr. Paul Curtis, principle investigator for the deer fertility control research, the project, as indicated by its dual title, is defined by a two-part plan.
Curtis explained that the “management” portion of the project involves the reduction of the deer population, while the “research” part of the plan incorporates fertility control studies.
The plan is more easily understood when broken down into the regions it includes. According to Curtis, the team chose an area called the Red Zone to refer to the core campus zone, spanning 1,775 acres of land. The outlying areas, referred to as the Green Zone, include 1,726 acres of land potentially open for fall hunting, surrounding the core campus on the north, east and south sides.
According to Boulanger, the major courses of action in the Red Zone include barrier fencing and netting, fertility control and repellents.
“A sure-fire way [to control deer population] is to build an eight-foot fence, but not only is this method expensive, it is also considered an eye-sore by many,” Boulanger said.
Boulanger also reported that repellants actually have limited efficacy because they require monthly reapplication to various plants.
Thus, a mixture of methods is most appropriate. The list of techniques used to curtail the number of deer extends to include hunting, in areas outside of the Red Zone.
“Hunting would be the fastest and least costly way to achieve the goal,” said Curtis.
But given that New York State conservation laws limit the discharge of bows and firearms within 500 feet of buildings, Curtis explained that it would be difficult to implement this technique near the core campus.
According to Curtis, there is currently an open-hunting policy on many Cornell lands surrounding the campus for those hunters that have obtained the appropriate permits. However, beginning with the next hunting season in the fall of 2008, Curtis explained that the team will place additional restrictions on hunting to more formally manage the population.
“Rather than [implementing it] farm by farm, we’ll have a centralized program,” Curtis said.
He explained that each hunter will have to maintain a record of the deer they have taken. In addition, the team will initially put the “Earn-a-Buck” program into action, where hunters will be required to take two female deer before they have permission to shoot at a male deer, also known as a buck.
“Survey after survey shows that a hunter will shoot at the antlered deer,” if given the choice between a male and female deer, Curtis said.
Forcing the hunters to strike two female deer first will curb the reproductive potential of the population.
Another mechanism designed to slow the reproductive pace of the deer defines the second prong of the plan — fertility control research.
Brittany Mosher ’09, a student research assistant for the project, explained that the team uses both tranquilizers shot via dart rifles, as well as box traps, in specified areas on campus.
“Each morning when we do this, we call Cornell Police to let them know that we are out,” Mosher said. “When we locate an untagged doe, we shoot a dart at the deer’s rump. The dart contains a drug cocktail approved for animal sedation,” she said.
Once the deer is sufficiently immobilized, the team will retrieve the deer and drive it to the College of Veterinary Medicine, where surgical staff will perform the spaying, tag the deer’s ear and then set it free.
The box traps work in a similar fashion. Mosher explained that once the deer have been successfully trapped in the box with netted sides, female deer are driven to the Vet school for the surgery, after sedation. Fawn male deer are tagged and released, while mature bucks are transported and neutered.
In this way, the project manages to incorporate many facets of the Cornell community. The project also works in association with the University Neighborhood Council, according to Curtis, which unites representatives from nearby towns with a representative from Cornell.
As the team moves forward, the project hopes to further the success it has thus far achieved; though, in this case, noticeable success happens to mean noticing less.