White-tailed deer are part of the Metroparks experience. The goal of the deer management program is to sustain a healthy number of deer in balance with other plant and animal species.
Like invasive species removal, prescribed fires and other natural resources management techniques, park districts sometimes need to replicate nature where natural processes have been interrupted. In the case of deer, nature provided predators that kept the population in balance. When those predators were eliminated, the deer population grew to unnaturally large numbers.
Since 1970, Ohio’s deer population has grown from fewer than 20,000 animals to more than 700,000 today, with a lack of predators and suburban landscapes creating desirable living conditions.
Metroparks ongoing deer management program began in 2013. After years of monitoring, the park system instituted a lottery drawing to select qualified bow hunters to reduce the deer population in rural areas of Lucas County, primarily on land set aside for future parkland
In 2016, the park system added a new tool to manage deer: culling.
Culling is conducted under a permit issued by the Ohio Division of Wildlife. The operation uses professional marksmen, working at night when the parks are closed, to safely, humanely and effectively reduce the deer population. The meat is then donated to local food pantries and soup kitchens.
Visual and infrared surveys from aircraft confirm this overpopulation problem in the Metroparks. These surveys help guide our deer management decisions from year to year.
Documents and Links
Presentation by Tim Schetter, Ph.D., director of Natural Resources for Metroparks, given at a research forum January 30, 2017.
Additional Sources of Information
A project of The Nature Conservancy and Cornell University to share information about Community-Based Deer Management, with examples from across the United States.
Fertility Control and White-tailed Deer
There is a large body of scientific evidence demonstrating that fertility control is not an effective management option for controlling large free-ranging white-tailed deer populations. Most research on fertility control has focused on females. Since one male can breed with multiple females, 100% of the male population would need to be treated for male fertility control to be effective. The two most common methods of fertility control advocated for by opponents of lethal control are 1) surgical sterilization, and 2) immuno-contraception.
While surgical sterilization has a high rate of success per animal, the average cost is estimated at $1,000 per deer, but may exceed $3,000 per deer to achieve results at the population level (Boulanger et al. 2014). Currently, there is one immuno-contraceptive vaccine registered with U.S. EPA approved for use in white-tailed deer. This vaccine, known as GonaCon, was developed by USDA APHIS-Wildlife Services. However, effectiveness of this vaccine in field studies was found to be as low as 47% (Gionfriddo et al., 2009). The vaccine also requires that deer are captured to receive a one-time injection, at a cost of several hundred dollars per deer. A second immuno-contraceptive vaccine under development by the Humane Society of the United States, ZonaStat-H (referred to generally as PZP), has not been approved for use in white-tailed deer.
Use of contraception to control white-tailed deer populations is not legal in Ohio without approval from the Chief of the Ohio Division of Wildlife. Division of Wildlife biologists firmly state that they will not grant approval for use of contraceptives on wild deer populations (unless part of a formal research study) because it is not an effective population control method. For Metroparks of the Toledo Area, even if fertility control was an option, the cost to implement fertility control across the entire park district (or even within a single Metropark) is simply not feasible and it does not addresses the underlying issue that there is currently an overabundance of deer across the park district causing pervasive ecological damage.
Tim Schetter, Ph.D.
Director of Natural Resources
Metroparks of the Toledo Area