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Controlling Deer? Expert Shares Ideas

What's the best way to control the deer population in Westport? Laura Simon, field director of the Urban Wildlife Program of the Humane Society of the United States, was one of several speakers who discussed deer management options at a public hearing Wednesday night.

The Representative Town Meeting's Environment, Health and Human Services Committee and Public Protection Committee held the hearing in response to a petition requesting the town establish a deer management program. Another public hearing will be held in November.

"Does hunting really reduce the deer population?" Simon asked during her PowerPoint presentation.

According to Simon, one study showed that hunting reduced the deer population in one community by 20 percent to 30 percent. But "the population bounced back a few years later," Simon said because of high reproduction and higher survival rates. This "yo-yo effect" is often the consequence of hunting.

A better option to help reduce the deer population is immunocontraception, or birth control.

"Field trials have shown PZP," a type of wildlife birth control, "reduced the number of deer and kept them at low levels," Simon said. "It brings down the deer population over time, but it's a long-term solution."

When it comes to ticks and Lyme disease, Simon said hunting deer isn't the best option.

"Blacklegged ticks have a variety of hosts. Deer tend to be the end-stage hosts," Simon said. "You can't reduce the number of ticks by targeting only one host—you'd have to reduce the population of many hosts."

And because adult ticks prefer medium to large hosts, removing deer would lead these ticks to find substitute hosts, such as dogs and humans.

Simon said the use of 4-poster deer-feeding stations is effective in reducing ticks. These feeding stations use corn as bait, and when deer eat the corn, rollers apply pesticide on their necks and faces.

"It's been shown to kill 90 percent of ticks on 90 percent of deer in a 50 acre area," Simon said. "It's an effective method I encourage you to consider."

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