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Head of the Harbor’s plan to control deer population delayed

The Avalon Park and Preserve in Head of

The Avalon Park and Preserve in Head of the Harbor is doing work to locate and count deer in the village. Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

Head of the Harbor’s deer population has reached an alarming level and appears to be growing, but an experimental birth control program village trustees hoped would roll out this spring has been delayed until next year, Mayor Douglas Dahlgard said.

In the meantime, he said, Avalon Park and Preserve, a partner in the program and one of the village’s largest landowners, has done preliminary work with infrared drone cameras to locate and count deer and is working with residents to set “camera traps” for the deer as they walk through the village’s heavily wooded lots.

Village trustees are also considering changes to village code that would permit high deer fencing in residential districts but are wary that new legislation could have unintended consequences, for example, pushing hungry deer to target unfenced yards.

A spokeswoman for the New York State Department of Conservation, which must review the birth control program before it can be implemented, said the agency had not yet received an application.

Dahlgard said the program, intended to test administration of a birth control vaccine, may be expanded to include a surgical component. The program had been scheduled to start in February and will now start in 2019, he said.

Researchers are “getting feedback” from the DEC before submitting an application, said Allen Rutberg, director of the Center for Animals and Public Policy, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, one of the partners behind the program, in a statement emailed by a spokeswoman. The other partners, Humane Society of the United States and Avalon, did not respond to requests for comment.

Suffolk County’s deer population ranges from 25,400 to 34,600, according to the DEC. The agency does not estimate local populations. Dahlgard’s own estimate for the village is a “couple hundred.”

The deer are beloved by some who feel they impart a rural feel to the village, but they have a taste for hostas, shrubs and other yard plantings, tormenting gardeners. They also bring ticks, a vector for disease, and they wander in front of cars and jump spiked fences, sometimes with gruesome results.

“Regulated hunting is the only viable tool available” for large-scale population management, according to the DEC’s latest available management plan for white-tailed deer. But that solution was unpalatable for a significant portion of residents — not to mention illegal, under municipal code that forbids weapons discharge within village limits — and trustees voted in 2016 to proceed with the birth control program, testing an immunocontraceptive drug called porcine zona pellucida, or PZP. The vaccine, which would be delivered to does by dart by trained researchers operating under an amended village code, stimulates the doe’s immune system to block egg fertilization.

The surgical component would include removal of doe ovaries, a procedure Dahlgard said had been successful on Staten Island and in Fairfax, Virginia.

To be effective, deer fertility control must treat more than 90 percent of the breeding female deer in a herd and must be maintained for at least a decade, according to the DEC.

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