This story was updated at 1:15 p.m. on Dec. 18.
Officials in the City of Fairfax have signed off on a non-lethal approach to managing the city’s deer population.
The city will support a grant-funded research program that uses surgical sterilization of female deer as a mechanism for controlling deer population.
Last year, the Fairfax City Council determined that it did not want to allow hunting within city limits. Surrounding Fairfax County uses managed hunts as its main method of deer population control.
Dr. Anthony DiNicola, of White Buffalo, Inc., will coordinate the program. He estimates that the city’s deer population is between 50 to 75 deer, or about 15 per square mile, which is much lower than areas considered to have a deer crisis.
By comparison, some of Fairfax County’s large parks were estimated to have population densities of more than 200 deer per square mile before the county started its deer management program.
Most jurisdictions wait until the populations reach a crisis point before trying to thin the herds, DiNicola said. He is interested to see the effects of a more proactive approach.
“I can’t guarantee that deer are going to become a problem here,” DiNicola told the City Council last week. “But you have the right formula … it’s coming.”
While it might not be a crisis, Councilman David Meyer said deer are a big problem in his neighborhood. “The impact to our little area is significant,” he said.
Using this method is a slower approach to population control, DiNicola said, because the population isn’t reduced until deer die of natural causes or in collisions with vehicles. Some jurisdictions opt to combine sterilization and managed hunts for more effect, he said.
While it hasn’t been used in Virginia, White Buffalo has used this method in Cayuga Heights, N.Y.; San Jose, Calif.; and Phoenix, Md.
Under the program, does are anesthetized using a dart and then transported to a central area where veterinarians will perform surgery to remove their ovaries.
“From start to finish, the animals are on the table for about 11 minutes,” DiNicola said.
The veterinarians take all possible precautions to ensure that the deer remain sufficiently anesthetized during the procedure and that they don’t feel pain afterward, he said,
All of the deer receive an ear tag to mark that they have been captured, and a few will also have radio collars put on so researchers can continue to track their movements.
The procedure costs about $1,000 per deer, according to DiNicola. However, he said, he was able to cut the costs in half for a deer sterilization program in Maryland by securing volunteer assistance from local veterinarians. The program will be funded by a grant and not city funds.
DiNicola said he believes permanent sterilization is more effective than injecting deer with contraceptives because you only have to capture the deer one time. The contraceptives that have been used on deer in select studies nationwide have to be re-applied over time, like a vaccine.
The researchers are waiting for final approval on their plan from the state Department of Game and Inland Fisheries before proceeding with sterilization.
The original version of this story misrepresented the approximate number of deer in Fairfax City.