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Jul 1, 2014 3:56 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Village Preservation Society Preps For Doe-Spaying Fundraising

Jul 1, 2014 3:56 PM

After recently announcing its “Spay-A-Doe” campaign—an effort to control the deer population by actually spaying does in the field—the East Hampton Preservation Society is gearing up for its mission to raise $100,000 to fund the program, hoping to supplement the $30,000 allotted by East Hampton Village in its 2014-15 budget.

The group plans to host a series of informational house parties, where residents will be invited to listen to how, and why, the sterilization program would be effective, and to donate, the society’s executive director, Kathy Cunningham, said.

The organization is still in the process of coming up with a strategy, said Ms. Cunningham, but is hoping to begin the information sessions in August. The preservation society also gave the village a grant of $5,000 to help get the project started.

“We wanted to announce this at the beginning of the summer season, because this is when the deer problem is most evident, and this is when homeowners are in residence,” she said in a phone interview on Friday. “A lot of second-home owners are only here during the summer, so it gives us an opportunity to focus on it. It gives people a chance to see it now, because they’re out here and, like, ‘Oh, what happened to my plants?’”

The plan came as a response to the “underfunded” project, said Ms. Cunningham, calling the village’s $30,000 “arbitrary” and not enough to make a significant dent in the deer population. The cost of surgery for each deer is roughly $1,000, she said, adding that the village’s $30,000 line item would only fund surgeries on 30 deer.

If fully funded, however, at $130,000, with a successful campaign, Ms. Cunningham said she is confident that the project would be effective.

Dr. Anthony DeNicola, founder of White Buffalo Inc., which will conduct the spaying project, said he estimates there are at least 60 to 80 deer per square mile in the village, which consists of roughly five square miles, for an estimated total of 300 to 500 deer.

“We have a lot of confidence that we have at least 100 does,” Ms. Cunningham said. “We feel very confident in that.” She said that number stems largely from her own observation of deer in the village, but no accurate statistical survey has been taken.

East Hampton Town attempted to conduct an aerial deer survey in 2013, which yielded a count of 887 deer—a stark difference from the surveyed 3,293 in 2006.

Ms. Cunningham said the town’s aerial method of surveying is flawed because the camera that is supposed to detect the deer was held at a 45-degree angle instead of a 90-degree angle, and the results of the survey were essentially irrelevant.

“What they’re [the village] not paying attention to, and of course we don’t expect everyone to make the same study of this, but we have really studied this peculiarly,” she said. “It’s a body of knowledge we have from years of reaching out, conducting informational forums, surveys. Part of our incentive to this is frustration that we didn’t want the first year to yield so little.”

The sterilization process, slated to begin in January, involves performing ovariectomies, a surgical procedure to remove a doe’s ovaries.

Dr. DeNicola said he plans to divide the deer population in East Hampton Village into two groups by essentially putting a line down the village: on one side, deer will be hunted, which is allowed on private property with the correct permits; on the other side, the does will be spayed in addition to hunted. He admits he is unsure of how, exactly, he will keep the deer separate from each other.

The reason for the two groups, he said, is to use the hunt-only group as a control group and subsequently determine the effectiveness of the spaying.

The does will be shot with a dart gun, tranquilized, and taken to a makeshift operating room nearby via pickup truck, where they will undergo the ovariectomy. “You just make a mid-line incision, pull out the ovaries and clamp them,” Dr. DeNicola said casually. “It’s a 10-to-12-minute procedure.”

Any doe that has undergone the surgery will be tagged to alert hunters that they should not be shot, and to allow White Buffalo Inc. to determine which does still need to be spayed.

The surgery to spay the does, he said, is less invasive than spaying a dog or cat, which requires the removal of the whole uterus. He added that it is more effective than hormonal sterilization, which needs to be performed every 28 days.

“For example, if you were to give [the does] a PVP vaccine, through hormonal injection, those types of vaccines will keep the animal from getting pregnant, but it’ll still go through the natural hormonal cycle—so, 28 days later, it’ll cycle again,” he explained.

Dr. DeNicola added that not only would the deer need to be repeatedly vaccinated, thus creating more work and costing more money, it is also “unnatural to have a deer cycling that frequently. They’d still be ovulating and continually track males,” he said, potentially upping the overall population.

A location for the surgeries to occur has yet to be set in East Hampton, he said, but other municipalities that have opted for this method of deer management typically volunteer municipal buildings to house the surgeries.

The total time for bating, darting, transporting, performing surgery, tagging, and releasing the deer, however, can take anywhere between two to 10 hours for each deer, said Dr. DeNicola. “Those hours of labor are probably 80 percent of the cost,” he said, adding that he hopes to get local volunteers and veterinarians to cut down on the cost of the project.

“Is 130 grand enough? If they can raise that, great,” he said. “It’ll definitely handle half the village. The question is, can we do the whole village? Because I’m not sure exactly how many deer are out there. It makes it dicey.”

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