East Hampton Village says it has an alternative to a deer culling program that divided the East End this year: surgically sterilizing some or all of the does in the village.
The Village Preservation Society of East Hampton, a civic group, successfully lobbied the village government to fund a doe sterilization program to reduce the deer population.
The village board budgeted $30,000 for the experimental program, but the society said that is not enough and is seeking to raise $100,000 more in donations by the end of the summer. The cost of the program is estimated to be $1,000 per deer.
Kathleen Cunningham, executive director of the Village Preservation Society, called the program a "middle ground" that could satisfy residents frustrated with the growing deer population and wildlife advocates who oppose hunting.
"There are some among us who do not approve of hunting, who are philosophically opposed to hunting," she said. "There are also some among us who hunt and approve of hunting. What we found more ethically challenging was that nothing was being done."
The village had been among several municipalities that signed on to be a part of a Long Island Farm Bureau program involving U.S. Department of Agriculture sharpshooters who had planned to kill deer on the East End this winter and spring. The cull was curtailed after opponents filed lawsuits and organized protests, and several towns and villages opted not to participate.
Some East End residents have said deer hurt farms and other properties by decimating plants, cause motor vehicle accidents and help spread tick-borne disease.
East Hampton Village officials have been talking to White Buffalo Inc., a Connecticut nonprofit that has sterilized does at five sites across the country.
White Buffalo president Tony DeNicola said a team of four biologists and a veterinarian may be able to capture and sterilize virtually every doe in the 5-square mile village in about a month.
Does tend to travel within a relatively small "home range," so it's possible to sterilize all the does in an area without many outside ones moving in, he said.
Biologists work at night, baiting then tranquilizing does with dart guns, DeNicola said. They then transport them to a site where a veterinarian removes the ovaries in a surgery that takes 10 to 12 minutes.
A team can sterilize 15 to 20 does a night, DeNicola said. Biologists tag the sterilized does so hunters can recognize them, he said. The tags allow hunters to try to concentrate their efforts on non-tagged deer.
White Buffalo spent two weeks in 2012 sterilizing 137 does in upstate Cayuga Heights, a village of about 2 square miles, DeNicola said. A team returned last year and sterilized an additional 12, he said.
White Buffalo may sterilize deer in half of East Hampton, and use the other half as a control to compare the effectiveness of sterilization and hunting combined, versus hunting alone, DeNicola said. The state allows bowhunters to kill deer in East Hampton from October through December.
The East Hampton program is scheduled to start in January, said village administrator Rebecca Molinaro, who said the village board "is very supportive of this project."