Humane Citizens of Ohio Object to Culls

From Linda Leas, Deer Defenders of Ohio

The abundance of white-tailed deer generated by the Ohio Division of Wildlife (DOW) has extended into many urban areas of the state. Cincinnati is a good example of how wildlife management agencies are causing problems for both deer and citizens.

Cincinnati lies at the bottom of the state along the Ohio River, and has fairly hilly terrain. Many of its parks are forested. As early as 2005 some residents adjacent to parks began to feel overcrowded with deer, or resented some of their plants being eaten, or were concerned about deer/car crashes, wildflowers, etc. They approached city officials, asking for something to be done. By 2007 the city had conducted aerial infrared studies, decided there were too many deer, and chose lethal control – initially starting with nighttime killing by Cincinnati police officers. City Council had to amend the municipal code to allow discharge of weapons in public parks. Deer were attracted to bait, and 210 were killed the first year.

Jim Burkhardt, Supt. of Operations for the Parks, was quoted in a Nov. 2014 CityBeat article: “After two years of sharpshooting we couldn’t keep substantiating the cost.” The Parks board then turned to the other option offered by the state: bow hunters. This of course benefited the DOW, as each qualifying bow hunter had to purchase an Ohio hunting license, and a deer permit. With the advent of bow hunting came humane concerns. Many studies indicate approximately 50% of deer shot with arrows are wounded and escape. If not dispatched, they slowly bleed to death or die of infection. Residents were also unhappy at being shut out of certain parks, often for up to 4 months at a time, to allow hunters “to hunt safely… using elevated tree stands. Also, despite all the education, training, skill qualification tests, and Supt. Burkhardt’s admonition, “We don’t want wounded deer running around the parks,” some citizens found dead, un-retrieved, bow-hunted deer along jogging paths.

While the culling has brought the deer population down, the Parks Council says they have yet to reach their preferred number of 15-20 deer per square mile. In 2014 a citizen group was formed, seeking an end to the Parks’ unilateral decision to pursue fatal methods of deer management. The group participated in deer rallies, gathered petitions, and gave presentations to park officials and city leaders. Spokesperson Dr. Millie Schafer, a retired research scientist for the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, said, “Deer are sentient beings. They feel pain. They have a social structure; they’re a matriarchal society. Fawns stay with their moms for one to two years, and sadly many of the fawns see their mothers shot…..We just don’t want hunting in the city.”

In October 2014 the Parks Board suspended the killing of deer via bow hunting in three Clifton parks — Rawson Woods, Edgewood Grove, and Mt. Storm. They gave the citizen committee until June 2015 to present an alternate program. The committee’s goal was to implement a research project to humanely control park deer populations, either through birth control or sterilization.

Establishing a program was anything but simple. The Parks Board could not offer monetary support, and a detailed process was to be submitted, including staffing, reporting procedures, peer-reviewed research support, and a budget indicating private funding sources. Also required were any federal, state, county and city permits, and a process for measuring results. Finally, the research project had to be approved by the head of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

A minority segment of the group – which came on board after the bow hunting in Clifton parks was stopped – opted for surgical sterilization. A vote showed most members supported a birth control effort. That faction re-organized as Cincinnati Urban Deer Advocates (CUDA). The surgical sterilization supporters entered into a contract with White Buffalo Inc. This a deer-management-for-hire organization that operates throughout the country, managing and/or killing deer in about any way you could imagine, including surgery, shooting, and the infamous trap-and-bolt method — deer are baited into tiny fenced enclosures, and killed with a captive bolt pistol, normally used in slaughterhouses.

The DOW agreed to a 3-year project, with an option to expand. The program was to be implemented in December, 2015. The co-founders of the sterilization working group, ( described the program at a Nov. 2016 “Ohio Wildlife Community Cooperative Conference” held in Columbus, Ohio. This was presented by a partnership that included the Ohio Division of Wildlife, and USDA-APHIS Wildlife Services – not an animal-friendly atmosphere.

It was claimed the rapid ovariectomy takes only 20 minutes and has low mortality. The speaker noted the procedure is endorsed as humane and safe by the Humane Society of the United States, which contributed money to the project. It was reiterated that the Ohio DOW does not consider non-lethal deer population control as a management technique, only as “research.” The park study area was one square mile in size and possibly subject to in-migration of deer. Forty-one does were darted, tranquilized, sterilized by volunteer vets, given antibiotics and pain medication, ear-tagged, given a reversal agent, and monitored from a distance. The cost of the first year program was $42,000 and is estimated to be $26,000 the second year. There was a wide range of opinions about the program, according to the coordinator.

On March 4, 2017 deer advocate Dr. Schafer attended a program given by the Cincinnati chapter of Wild Ones, a not-for-profit environmental education organization that works to preserve biodiversity through the preservation and establishment of native plant communities.

Dr. Schafer, expecting a “Bambi-bashing” session, went armed with scientific data, including two Yale University studies (2013 and 2016) finding that “deer had an impact on the landscape but did not alter plant cover or diminish forest regeneration capacity” and another study stating, “contrary to our expectations, our long-term data showed that artificially high ungulate densities substantially increased plant species richness.” Still another article stated: “Deer are scapegoats for larger ecological problems.” She advised part of the CUDA mission is to support humane management of deer populations where there is a clearly demonstrated need to do so, and to promote co-existence. Five of 30 people present were interested in further information supporting the Yale studies and the complex issues negatively impacting the city parks.

Dr. Schafer noted the Wild Ones panel on local methods of controlling deer included a horticulturalist, Hamilton County park employees running the bow hunting program, and a person involved with the sterilization program. That individual stated in the panel discussion that his choice would have been to kill most of the Clifton deer and sterilize the rest. The Parks employee spoke on the bow hunting program and defended it as humane. Dr. Schafer notes the existence of much peer-reviewed literature to the contrary, and that studies show it to be an ineffective population control method.

In an update, Dr. Schafer reports evidence that White Buffalo has sterilized deer elsewhere, and gone back later to kill deer – its charge of $2,000 per doe sterilization becomes prohibitive to sustain long-term. CUDA was also aware of contentious problems in a sterilization program in East Hampton, New York. Ten Cincinnati parks/preserves are still being bow hunted, with activity stopped only in the 3 Clifton parks. She says Parks officials want to expand the killing of deer, and may consider some sharpshooting in the future.

In a new development, on April 18, 2017 Dr. Schafer announced that the Cincinnati Parks superintendent had requested information on the use of immuno-contraception for deer population stabilization and reduction. After reading publications sent to him, he responded that he feels immuno-contraception is a good idea, and asks how approval will be obtained from all the agencies involved, namely Ohio Dept. of Agriculture, Ohio Division of Wildlife, Cincinnati City Council, and Cincinnati Park Board. Contraception may allow CUDA to achieve its goal of an end to deer hunting in city parks.

This writer would wager that the ODNR may approve contraception in small, urban areas, but would never let it replace statewide management, i.e. recreational hunting. As Cincinnati deer supporters await future decisions and developments, the Division of Wildlife continues its agenda – recruiting hunters, boosting revenue through sales of licenses and permits, and maximizing target animals and hunting opportunities. Most wars are won through small battles. One wonders when the deer war can be waged at its source?

What can you do? Educate yourself about deer population dynamics, the hunting industry, and how your state wildlife agency is funded. Search the articles of the Committee to Abolish Sport Hunting, C.A.S.H. at

If you live in Ohio, please contact Deer Defenders of Ohio.

Linda Leas is a member of Committee to Abolish Sport Hunting and Deer Defenders of Ohio. She has documented the effort by citizens to stop the killing of deer and the expansion of what is essentially sport hunting into the park system of cities.



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