In an effort to combat a much debated, lingering problem of controlling its deer population, the Village of Cayuga Heights will need to continue sterilizing a high percentage of its deer, according to Kate Supron, mayor of the village.
In December, the Village of Cayuga Heights sterilized approximately 95 percent of its female deer population, according to Supron.
Although the village has continued its plan to sterilize deer, many residents have opposed harming the deer. Others, however, said the deer population needs to be controlled to avoid harmful environmental problems.
Supron, however, said that “it was the most effective move we could make to stabilize the population at this point in time.”
“It doesn’t reduce the number of deer on the landscape. It just drops your birth rate, and over time, as they die, your population goes down if you’re able to maintain a sterile population,” she said.
While the natural density for deer is around 15 per square mile, Cayuga Heights has 125 deer per square mile, Supron said. This roughly translates to a population of just under 250 deer for the 1.83 square miles Cayuga Heights occupies.
With such a “serious concentration of deer,” the village proposed a two-pronged policy to tackle the problem and reduce the deer population, Supron said. The original proposal was that the village would sterilize a core population of does and then remove the remaining unsterilized deer at several culling sites through managed hunting.
However, Supron said, it soon became apparent that the plan would not work.
“You have to have property owner permission to discharge a weapon within 500 feet of an occupied dwelling,” she said. But after looking at the property permissions and considering the density of the village, it was clear that there would not be “a sufficient number of sites to be able to do the amount of culling required.”
At that point, the Village Board opted to approach the New York State Department of Environment Conservation, requesting a modification to its license so it could sterilize a larger percentage of the deer population, Supron said.
As a result, the village began sterilizing, tagging and identifying 95 percent of the female deer at last December.
Supron added, however, that the village would need to maintain the high level of sterilization in order for the program to be successful.
“It was the most effective move we could make to stabilize the population at this point in time, but it doesn’t reduce the number of deer on the landscape. It just drops your birth rate, and over time, as they die, your population goes down if you’re able to maintain a sterile population,” she said.
Overpopulation of deer has been a problem in Cayuga Heights reaching back as far as 1999, according to Supron.
Negative side effects of this problem have included “damage to the ecosystem” — including the destruction of the habitats of other native species, harm to the”regeneration of plants” that the deer have eaten, an “increased risk of automobile collisions,” a rise in the cases of Lyme disease in Tompkins County as a result of the spread of deer ticks and a negative impact on “people’s ability to use and enjoy their property,” according to Supron.
Coming up with a solution to solve the problem of deer overpopulation has not been easy, Supron said, and many people have debated the correct way to handle the situation.
In 2011, a group of residents filed a lawsuit to prohibit the village from implementing its program because they thought the village had not gone through an adequate decision-making process. Ultimately, Supron said, the courts ruled in favor of the village, and the program moved forward.
Prof. Emeritus Pete Wetherbee, English, a resident of Cayuga Heights, said he also tackled the issue of deer population control when he unsuccessfully ran for the Board of Trustees of Cayuga Heights last year.
“Our party wanted to avoid anything so drastic as killing deer and was mistrustful of the various proposals that the incumbent party put forward for dealing with the deer,” Wetherbee said.
Wetherbee added that it was challenging to accommodate the wide spectrum of opinions that the people of Cayuga Heights had.
On one end, there were “people who just want to go out there and blast away,” Wetherbee said, while on the other end, there were “people who don’t want to harm any living thing.”
However, for the most part, Wetherbee said the current method of sterilization seemed to be effective and it would be difficult to find a more effective method.
Moving forward, Supron said that the village is currently awaiting a report from Prof. Paul Curtis, natural resources, that will evaluate the current deer population situation. After looking at the report, she said the village will consider either maintaining the current sterilization program or looking at possible lethal deer control methods as possible options.
Wetherbee, however, said he does not believe culling — the controlled hunting of deer to reduce the population — will be a possible option for the future.
“I think it’s been pretty well decided on all sides that culling is simply impossible in the village just for geographical reasons,” he said. “I don’t think they could get a quorum in the village of people who would agree to allow it even if they could find the space.”