Fripp Island — a barrier island at the southern border of South Carolina — sustains an ongoing deer population issue that some view as contrary to the island's position as a 'wildlife sanctuary.' To reduce the number of deer, the island officials chose controversial contraception called PZP. This resulted in cutting the population almost in half, from 700+ to 400 over a decade, according to Tina M. Reeves, Asst GM of the Fripp Island Property Ownership Association (FIPOA). While a sharpshooter program obviously takes less time, there are those who believe that wildlife fertility control offers a humane way to manage deer populations.
Culling the herd
Culling the herd by lethal force is a more primitive method. Sixteen years ago, according to an Island Packet news story, culling the herd in Beaufort was the standard method to reduce the numbers. At that time the total number of deer in all gated communities was 5030.
State wildlife officials, community managers, and biologists considered the program a success, saying it had significantly reduced the number of deer-car collisions and complaints from residents about damaged landscaping.
This tactic kept the deer mostly wild and leery of humans.
"The deer act like deer," said Charles Ruth, deer project supervisor for the S.C. Department of Natural Resources. "When deer don't run away (from people), that's not natural."
While, the use of sharpshooters was also a quick process, not everyone was pleased with the results.
Gordon Stamler, a Sea Pines Resort resident who led a legal fight against the culling in his community, indicated procedure was deleterious and that contraception was a more humane and effective way to control escalation.
Birth Control for Deer
The porcine zona pellucida (PZP) vaccine was adapted for deer in 1993. Scientists from the Science and Conservation Center in Billings, Montana, and the University of Toledo started the program to inject PZP-filled darts into deer at the Fire Island National Seashore in New York.
Subsequent field studies with Tufts University provided more validation on Fripp Island in South Carolina. These were experimental programs, and the authorization for the use of this vaccine had only been made at these select locations.
Recent improvements in the PZP vaccine now prevent deer from having fawns for up to three years with just one treatment. These vaccines significantly reduce the time needed to dart animals and, more importantly, reduce the costs of treating deer.
The immunocontraception study on Fripp has been most successful. Residents are very pleased by the results and happy to see that the remaining deer population on the island is healthier and causing fewer conflicts.
The results of all these studies in deer have shown that only 'isolated herds' like the environment at Fripp can be managed in this way.
As far as costs at Fripp, the initial capture and treatment of deer with a 2-year vaccine was approximately $500 per deer. Achieving rapid population stabilization and slow decline for about 300 deer was approximately $40,000 for both the first and second years, with lower amounts thereafter.
However, important to note, this expense was roughly six times more expensive than paying for sharpshooters.
Putting Nature On The Pill
Many communities in our South Carolina are grappling with the issues surrounding white-tailed deer and the problems that occur when deer and humans engage. Increasing numbers of both species cause additional problems, in particular Lyme disease, deer-vehicle accidents, and environmental devastation due to over-browsing of the woodlands.
The possibility of altering fertility in wild animal species has been around since1985, using sterilization, contraceptive drugs, and more recently vaccines that prevent conception.
Residents treat the deer like their children . . .
Today, it appears deer are a welcome addition to the Fripp Island demographic make-up, not a problem. Owners treat them like their children. Fripp inhabitants recognize them by their tags, call them by their numbers, and tell stories about some of their favorites.
I met a resident by the name of Gary Joines who has lived on the island for the last twenty years. He accepted my request to photograph him and one of the older Fripp Island bucks who visits his home regularly.
When asked about this deer, who appeared more like a pet than a member of the wildlife family, he said, "Oh I named this one 'Buddy,' he's a good old soul, but he's getting on in years like myself, and I fear that with all the fights these bucks engage in, this might be his last winter."
Unfortunately deer management remains a costly proposition, and contraception is still experimental in free-range deer herds. Until those issues are addressed on a grander scale, development like Fripp Island will have to rely on SC subsidized programs. And while 'culling the herd' might rear its 'ugly head' again in the future, here's hoping the contraceptive alternative is able to reduce cost and improve its effectiveness before that happens.
Primary Source: Humane Society