What Management Methods are Currently Available to Reduce the Local Deer Population?
The Fairfax County deer management program continues to expand and improve its deer management efforts through the utilization of all available population control tools as approved by the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR).
Archery program: Harvesting of deer using qualified bow hunters selected via public group hunt lottery
Sharpshooting: Harvesting of deer using special-trained Fairfax County Police Department officers
The DWR is the agency responsible for the regulation and enforcement of wildlife-related laws and restrictions on wildlife management or research in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Non-lethal fertility control methods for white-tailed deer (described below) are not currently approved as management methods in the Commonwealth by the DWR. It is at the discretion of this agency to grant permission and a special permit to conduct scientific research on these experimental techniques. The DWR continues to monitor and evaluate ongoing research that may inform future decisions about non-lethal methods. As non-lethal methods become viable, they will be evaluated for possible inclusion in the Fairfax County Deer Management Program to diversify the County’s management methods.
Studies have suggested that surgical sterilization of female deer has potential to reduce overabundant deer populations; however, results have varied widely and the effectiveness and feasibility of implementing this technique in suburban/urban areas is not well-established. Overall success of this technique to reduce white-tailed deer has been greater in closed or insular deer herds,such as those occupying islands or fenced areas where deer are unable to disperse naturally. Additional research is needed to quantify the effects of surgical sterilization on open, free-ranging deer herds, such as those present in Fairfax County. Costs for surgical sterilization from recent studies are currently estimated at approximately $1,000 per deer.
The City of Fairfax and White Buffalo, Inc., conducted a 5-year experimental research study to sterilize deer within the city limits. This research study was completed in 2018 and provided insight to the DWR and regional land managers as to the effectiveness and cost of sterilization for free-ranging deer in a suburban/urban environment. These sterilization efforts in Fairfax City were only approved by the DWR for the purposes of scientific research and are not currently ongoing.
Deer fertility control technology has been researched over the past few decades. Immunocontraceptive vaccines stimulate production of antibodies directed at hormones or proteins essential for reproduction, thus preventing pregnancy. Two drugs currently exist as a form of birth control to suppress fertility in adult, female white-tailed deer: porcine zona pellucida (PZP) vaccine and GonaCon.
PZP was first developed in 1972. In 2012, EPA formally registered the PZP vaccine for use as a contraceptive in wild horses and burros. In July 2017, the EPA approved the registration of the PZP vaccine, Zonastat-D, as a restricted use product for contraception of adult, female white-tailed deer via remote dart delivery.
GonaCon was developed in 1998. GonaCon was registered with the EPA in September 2009 as a restricted use product for contraception of adult, female white-tailed deer via hand injection.
These methods have proven to be generally successful with captive deer, but present complications when dealing with deer that are free-ranging. Although these products have been federally registered, state approval of deer management options and use of drugs in vertebrate wildlife is still required. Immunocontraceptives, like PZP and GonaCon, have not been approved by the DWR for general use in Virginia.