Friday, February 22, 2013

Deer Contraceptives: It’s About the Politics ­and Science

Letter: Deer Contraceptives: It’s About the Politics ­and Science

Hilltop Conservancy Treasurer Theresa Trapp (Deer Contraceptives: It's All About the Math posted on Feb. 14) omits key facts when claiming that the annual killing of deer at Hilltop and in South Mountain Reservation is somehow more effective than non-lethal approaches.

First, there is established science: the white-tail’s breeding ecology. Deer, especially previously non-hunted populations, respond to hunting pressure with higher fecundity. Hunting stimulates breeding by increasing carrying capacity. Fewer competitors results in more food for surviving females, earlier pregnancies, better neonatal health, and larger litters. Non-hunted sites show no increase in breeding.

By Ms. Trapp’s own admission: "… and yet 30% of female fawns become pregnant and bear on average 1 fawn each," hunting stimulates, and certainly has not reduced, breeding. The county’s deer shoots ensure perpetual killing, divisiveness, and taxpayer expense. Throughout the state, so-called “controlled hunts” -- initially advertised as “five-year” events -- are going into their 18th year. Ms. Trapp ignores this only to warn, ominously, that it is a single-dose contraceptive that will require repeated attention.

Essex killing programs are hardly small change. League of Humane Voters of New Jersey regional director Carol Rivielle points to County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo’s application for the 2013 killing permit. DiVincenzo stated that shooting South Mountain/Eagle Rock/Hilltop deer in 2011 "was accomplished at a total cost of $130,223.04, or $744.13 per deer. That cost included bait corn and butchering. The remainder was spent on staff and Sheriff's Department overtime, electronic message boards, food for the hunters, and an aerial infrared census." The alleged ecological benefits obtained at such a high cost of suffering and public treasure are indeed "small."

The purpose of any bona fide and humane deer program should be a reduction in deer breeding rates. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, GonaCon, which Ms. Trapp opposes, obtains up to an “80 percent” success rate in reducing breeding rates. That is 80 percent more effective than any hunting program.

North American science is solidly against baiting deer. Baiting is an integral part of the county’s annual kills and contributes to the very problems for which the Hilltop Conservancy indicts deer.

Multiple studies show that baiting causes forest degeneration by concentrating deer, who continue to feed on natural browse in the area, and increases predation on ground nesting birds by attracting coyotes, opossums, raccoons and rodents.

Bait contains invasive and exotic seeds that are deposited in the area by birds, animals, or wind, threatening the integrity of a forest community. Baiting encourages illegal activity and poaching, and increases auto/deer collisions as deer cross roads to reach food. Ironically, baiting improves reproduction in deer.

Baiting increases risk for multiple diseases in deer and other wildlife; the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study, "strongly opposes legalization of deer baiting."

The Division of Fish and Wildlife has allowed massive baiting for recreational deer hunting since 1998. In 1998-1999, hunters distributed one million pounds of food for deer throughout New Jersey. Since then, the percentage of hunters who bait has increased significantly.

Secondly, contraceptives are mired in politics. Like most products, contraceptives require broader use to bring costs down. Merely gaining contraceptive trials meets hostility from gun and archery manufacturers and most hunting agencies partnered with same. Recently, certain conservation groups have partnered with the gun trade. Such groups mimic the trade’s manufactured objections.

The gun lobby opposes contraceptives for deer and in fact declared non-lethal methods "a declaration of war on sportsmen." It has actually sued to prevent contraceptive trials in Indiana.

Few are aware that deer "scream" when shot, or when hit with the terrible and searing impact of a razor-tipped arrow. Shooting is not as seen on television; it is rarely clean, and it isn't pretty. The animal stumbles, cries out, and suffers. Wounding rates are unacceptably high. In some quarters, such concerns are derided as mere "sentimentality." To the Animal Protection League of New Jersey, to our members, and to a large segment of the public, they are basic decency.

The Animal Protection League is working to further more widespread use of non-lethal approaches desired by a majority of the public. To do so, cheaper delivery systems must be refined. We shall expect to see Hilltop Conservancy support our efforts to obtain trials for practical delivery systems. We shall also expect to see Ms. Trapp’s Hilltop Conservancy speak out against the widespread and ecologically damaging practice of deer baiting.

—Susan Russell
Wildlife Policy Specialist, Animal Protection League of New Jersey

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