Comments on Wildlife Management in Rye, NY

Submitted by Wildlife Watch Inc. and the League of Humane Voters of NY, March 4, 2015. Contact: Anne Muller (914) 388-5221 or Peter Muller (914) 388-5224.

Hastings immunocontraception project (from government website)

Legislative bodies are often asked to make decisions, set policies or pass ordinances concerning matters with which they have no more than a passing acquaintance. At the same time, the advocates addressing the legislators seem extraordinarily passionate on opposite sides of the issue. Both sides have their accredited experts testifying on behalf of their respective views.

Currently, the Village of Hastings has an immunocontraception program in progress. It began last year, and is expected to continue through 2017. We suggest that it would be prudent to analyze the outcome of this program before taking steps in Rye.

On February 25th, the issue of how to deal with deer and coyotes in Westchester County was discussed at a meeting. The solution that had been suggested was to cull the deer and increase hunting of coyotes.

The flaw in this reasoning is that a hunt will not reduce the number of deer if we consider the population size beyond the immediate culling.

At first that seems counter-intuitive. Surely, we would think, if we kill 150 deer from a herd of 200 there will only be 50 deer left in that herd forevermore. This works quite well for marbles, but it’s the wrong analogy when applied to wildlife reproduction and wildlife management. The reason is that deer have a breeding season in the fall of each year (called the “rut”) in which does are impregnated and fawns are born the following spring. The reproduction cycle is influenced by hunting (which also takes place in the fall) in such a way that the herd that will exist in the spring is larger than the herd that existed in the fall before the hunt.

In a little more detail, this is what happens: The fecundity of does varies directly with the amount of browse (food) available to the does during the rut. A population of deer that is in fact NOT being managed for keeping a continuing supply of deer for hunters will maintain its size by accommodating to the biological carrying capacity of its habitat, meaning the amount of browse that exists to feed the deer. If a shortage of browse is experienced during the rut, the does will go into estrus only once or twice – or not at all if there is a severe shortage of browse. If there is an abundance of browse, does will go into estrus four or even five times, and so have a much greater chance of becoming impregnated than during “lean years.” Multiple births (twins and triplets) are much more common if there is abundant browse during the rut, and yearling does – does born in the spring of that year – will go into estrus, which they normally would not do. (REPRODUCTIVE DYNAMICS AMONG DISJUNCT WHITE-TAILED DEER HERDS IN FLORIDA; ANDREAS R. RICHTER, RONALD F. LABISKY, Journal of Wildlife Management 49(4):964-971)

What does hunting have to do with this? If you have a firearm hunting license in New York State, you are allowed to shoot one buck (there are all kinds of special rules and exceptions involving does for various regions, but basically that’s the modus operandi). Let’s assume the deer herd has 200 deer comprised of 100 does and 100 bucks (deer are born in a 50/50 gender ratio, but management for hunting skews the gender ratio normally in favor of females). Let’s say we kill 50 bucks. We’ve now increased the browse for the surviving herd by 25%. The more abundant browse will signal a distorted message, and the fecundity of the does will increase to more than it should for the herd. The 50 “missing” bucks are hardly relevant to the reproduction of the herd, as a buck can easily service 10 does during the rut. The 100 does will produce fawns to the degree that the habitat can provide for them. In this illustration, there should be a herd of 250 deer – as indicated by the abundance of browse. In the spring there will be numerous multiple births and the herd size will exceed the original 200.

The DEC manages deer (and other game species) for hunters to have a continuing supply of wild animals to kill. To that end, there are both federal and state wildlife management areas where optimum conditions are created for increasing wildlife numbers. A quick look at the areas in Region 3 (which includes Westchester) shows at least 1,289 acres managed for high deer populations, not to mention wildlife management areas in neighboring Connecticut, or across the river for the same purpose. Deer have been known to swim across bodies of water. As deer leave the wildlife management areas and go into new places, they push the deer who had lived there out, and those continue to push others out and into new areas. While wildlife management areas are situated in more rural areas, and hunting normally takes place in rural areas, the management for hunting contributes to higher populations and is definitely impacting suburbia. (Pennsylvania Game Commission Senior Elk Biologist Rawley Cogan “Goal of Pennsylvania hunt is a bigger herd” Buffalo News 9/16/01)

We urge the members of this board to look at wildlife management for its impact on communities such as yours, and demand from the NYS DEC and your NYS legislators that wildlife management practices change for the sake of the public, and not be implemented solely for the sake of hunters and trappers, regardless of the money it brings to the state, because clearly this policy is depleting the income of the local communities that have to deal with the overflow.

What then can we do to reduce the current size of the deer heard that is considered by some to be too large?

As we researched the fairly recent history of deer in Westchester, we found that the Village of Hastings is using immunocontraception. While the results will be analyzed over a four year period, it promises to be an effective method because it reduces the population of deer over a couple of years and beyond, yet doesn’t trigger a higher birthrate.

Does can be darted with an immunocontraceptive agent, and they will not be able to reproduce for two years, after which time it can be repeated. See Field testing of single-administration porcine zona pellucida contraceptive vaccines in white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus).

DeerTech ultrasonic units emit high frequency sounds to deter deer

We suggest following the completion of the Hastings immunocontraception program with a blue ribbon panel of unbiased wildlife experts who are unaffiliated with pro-hunting groups or agencies.

One of the comments in the 2009 Hastings Deer Committee Report was that the “committee” did not necessarily represent the community. They suggested a vote by the community. Certainly, a non-binding referendum could be held which would allow the entire community to express its position about such a contentious and emotionally charged matter.

In light of the fact that culling has not proven effective, we believe it would be prudent to allow Hastings to complete its immunocontraception program, which may – and hopefully will – become a model for Westchester County. See The importance of localized culling in stabilizing chronic wasting disease prevalence in white-tailed deer populations.

We further ask the board to recommend against the hunting and trapping of coyotes so that the indiscriminate destruction of the alpha pair does not trigger a higher population of coyotes. (See Coyote population growth increases in Eastern NC. John DeLuca MCB Camp Lejeune Supervisory Wildlife Biologist. The Globe, October 2, 2014.)

Westchester deserves to fully understand the way wildlife management is operating today and how, for everyone’s sake, it needs to start operating tomorrow.


Contact Us

Committee to Abolish Sport Hunting / C.A.S.H.
P.O. Box 562
New Paltz, NY 12561