A Connecticut nonprofit plans Friday to begin a scramble to capture and surgically sterilize as many deer as possible in East Hampton Village.
White Buffalo Inc. intends to station a team of 10 biologists, veterinarians and other staff in the village for about three weeks in an experimental program aimed at reducing the deer population without resorting to gunfire.
East Hampton Village allocated $30,000 for the project this year, and private residents raised $110,000 in donations this summer -- enough to sterilize about 140 female deer at an estimated cost of about $1,000 per deer.
"We're just going to get everything we possibly can done within that budget," White Buffalo founder Tony DeNicola said in a phone interview Tuesday.
White Buffalo has performed the sterilization program in six locations nationwide, most recently during three nights in December when the group sterilized 24 deer at the National Institutes of Health campus in Bethesda, Maryland.
Biologists work at night, baiting and tranquilizing the does before picking them up and driving them to a location where veterinarians remove their ovaries in a 10- to 12-minute surgery.
DeNicola said the 5-square-mile East Hampton Village is larger and more populated with deer than any area the organization has worked.
"It'll begin to test the boundaries of what is realistic or possible using a strictly nonlethal method," he said. "It will be the biggest project we've taken on, so we'll get a better sense of those costs or logistics."
Residents across eastern Long Island have complained that the growing deer population increases auto accidents, destroys plant life and spreads tick-borne disease. There are an estimated 30,000 deer in Suffolk County.
The East Hampton Village Preservation Society, a civic group, raised money for the sterilization program and pressed village officials to support it after a U.S. Department of Agriculture culling program in which sharpshooters killed 192 deer ignited protests on the East End earlier this year.
Mike Tessitore of East Quogue, founder of the Long Island hunting advocacy group Hunters for Deer, said sterilization is a "feel-good approach" but predicted it will prove ineffective and overly expensive. "Keep your money," he said. "Let hunters do it for free."
DeNicola said hunting has limited effectiveness in the suburbs because deer learn to take refuge in areas off-limits to hunters. "If hunting is working so well, then the East End of Long Island wouldn't be overrun with deer," he said.
East Hampton Village administrator Rebecca Molinaro said the village board is pleased with the method's results at other sites and is "committed to this as a multiyear program."
DeNicola said his organization targets does because they stay within a relatively small home range. Bucks roam widely, so sterilizing them is not effective at reducing the population in a defined area, he said.