Deer culling is set to begin in Mt. Lebanon, as soon as the state Game Commission approves the municipality’s permit application for the trap-and-euthanize method of population control.
But some residents and town commissioners are dissatisfied with the plan, which they say is only a short-term solution to an ongoing problem.
“If you do a shooting or a massive kill of a deer population, it allows for them to eat more,” said Commissioner Kelly Fraasch, who in January cast the sole no vote against the measure. “The ones that survive can eat more, can produce then more babies, you have multiples that are born, and then you have a bigger problem in the end after several years.”
The so-called “rebound effect” is not the only concern Fraasch has about the plan to euthanize up to 150 deer in the coming weeks. She said the $500/deer the municipality will pay to Wildlife Specialists LLC will be wasted if the population bounces back. She also said she has concerns about the method of baiting the deer with food, corralling them and then shooting them in the head at close range.
Instead, Fraasch is advocating for sterilization of the female white-tailed deer. But the method is still considered experimental and the Game Commission has already denied the municipality’s application for a sterilization permit.
Commissioner Dave Brumfield said sterilization has not been tried anywhere in Pennsylvania and that the Game Commission simply will not allow it. He said he is “appalled” at the agency’s approach to dealing with exploding deer populations, which tends to favor lethal methods over non-lethal methods.
“The fact that the Game Commission handcuffs us like this, it just does a disservice to the residents of Pennsylvania,” Brumfield said.
Fellow commissioner Kristen Linfante is also dissatisfied with the trap-and-euthanize plan. She said the city had attempted to implement an archery hunting program to deal with the deer population in the fall, but was stymied when the Game Commission said they did not have any deer tags left to give to the municipality.
She said the current plan represents a compromise among the five commissioners.
“Personally I would have supported a sharp-shooting plan,” Linfante said. “I believe that it’s more humane, it’s more efficient, and it’s more cost-effective.”
The city of Mt. Lebanon did implement a sharp-shooting program in place from 2006-2008, but Linfante said it was discontinued over safety concerns among her fellow commissioners, many of which she believes are imagined.
But all members of the commission agree that a variety of methods are needed to keep the deer population in check.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt from any reputable source that a culling program, an isolated one year or two year addresses the problem,” Brumfield said. “You either need to cull every year or you need some other part of the program.”
Since 2011, Mt. Lebanon police have been aggregating data on deer-related incidents in the city. A chart of all the reported incidents is available on the Mt. Lebanon website, and includes 807 instances ranging from people finding injured deer in their yards to automobile accidents caused by deer darting into the road.
So far, six people have been injured in car accidents involving deer in the last four years, including two instances where drivers swerved to miss a deer and ended up flipping their vehicles. A column on the chart titled “person killed” is still void of any marks, and Linfante said they aim to keep it that way. She said their goal is to reduce the number of traffic accidents caused by deer by 50 percent in the next 3-5 years.
“We have people coming to us who have contracted Lyme disease; we have people coming to us who have had car accidents,” Linfante said. “That is our concern. It has to be our number one concern, public safety.”
The city of Mt. Lebanon is still awaiting approval of their trap-and-euthanize permit from the Game Commission. Commissioner Brumfield said once approved, the culling operation will last 4-8 weeks.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission did not immediately respond to a request for comment on this story.