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Mt. Lebanon turns to archers in controlling deer population

Matthew Santoni
| Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2015, 10:57 p.m.
Kristen Tullo of the Humane Society talks with a colleague in the crowd before talking before commissioners during a discussion session at the Mt. Lebanon Municipal Building on Tuesday evening, Sept. 8, 2015.
Stephanie Strasburg | Trib Total Media
Kristen Tullo of the Humane Society talks with a colleague in the crowd before talking before commissioners during a discussion session at the Mt. Lebanon Municipal Building on Tuesday evening, Sept. 8, 2015.
Jody Maddock of White Buffalo talks about a proposed archery program to cull deer in Mt. Lebanon during a discussion session with commissioners at the Mt. Lebanon Municipal Building on Tuesday evening, Sept. 8, 2015.
Stephanie Strasburg | Trib Total Media
Jody Maddock of White Buffalo talks about a proposed archery program to cull deer in Mt. Lebanon during a discussion session with commissioners at the Mt. Lebanon Municipal Building on Tuesday evening, Sept. 8, 2015.

Mt. Lebanon will start culling deer with archers later this month, seeking to supplement them with sharpshooters and applying for grants to sterilize deer as well.

The board of commissioners approved some form of all three deer-control methods discussed Tuesday night.

White Buffalo Inc., the U.S. Department of Agriculture's APHIS Wildlife Services and the Humane Society of the United States presented the board of commissioners different methods of controlling the deer herd, which has dominated so much of the municipality's public discussions over the last year.

The municipality is seeking to reduce crashes involving deer by 50 percent over five years. It has been bombarded by residents complaining of aggressive animals, destroyed gardens and yards full of feces.

An attempt last winter to lure deer into corrals claimed only six animals as a week of protests and weather disrupted the effort.

Connecticut-based White Buffalo has spent the past eight weeks planning a managed archery hunt, which would have seven hand-picked and trained volunteer bowhunters set up on volunteers' private property (and potentially in some public parks) to cull deer during the regular hunting season that starts Sept. 19.

“A foundation has been built, and that foundation is solid; I'd just say the concrete needs to dry,” said Jody Maddock, project manager for White Buffalo.

The board approved hiring White Buffalo for $15,460 this summer and gave them the go-ahead to start hunting in a 4-1 vote with Commissioner Kelly Fraasch opposed.

Maddock had worked since July to identify property owners willing to waive the 50-yard safety zones around their homes where state law prohibits hunting, then reaching out to their neighbors for permission to waive their safety zones or allow hunters to pick up deer that have been shot but fall on neighboring properties.

He said about 18 properties are being targeted for hunting, and six are ready to go.

The municipality would not disclose the locations, Commission President John Bendel said.

“We've got our eye on about 18 of them, but you can multiply that by six (neighbors) on average, so we'd need 120 signatures to make those properties a go,” Maddock said before the meeting.

Municipal staff will discuss letting hunters into McNeilly, Robb Hollow and Twin Hills parks, along with the municipal golf course and conservation land off Connor Road.

At the commissioners' request, the hunters would be police officers to make residents more comfortable with their presence and use the parks only from Monday through Friday, Maddock said.

The USDA is proposing using silenced rifles and firing from the back of trucks toward deer drawn to bait on private property. Since shooting the deer close to occupied properties would fall outside the normal state rules for hunting, Mt. Lebanon would need a permit from the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

The USDA said it preferred the roving trucks to tree stands because a driver, a spotter and a shooter are involved, improving safety.

“We're not going to try and sell you on a service we don't think is going to meet your goals,” APHIS representative Todd Puckett said.

Mt. Lebanon used APHIS for deer culling from late 2006 to 2008 but discontinued that program over residents' concerns about its safety. Representatives said Tuesday there had been no safety issues in the previous program — no lost bullets, misfires or injuries.

Dissatisfied with the USDA's answers, the commission approved applying to the game commission for sharpshooters and seeking other providers' proposals for how they'd conduct a cull using only stationary stands. Those motions both passed 3-2, with commissioners Fraasch and Dave Brumfield opposed.

The newest proposal came from the Humane Society, which is working with the Dietrich W. Botstiber Foundation to find and fund Pennsylvania communities interested in nonlethal deer control. The society would use a combination of surgical sterilization and dart-delivered birth control, seeking to reach 95 to 100 percent of the female deer population.

“We have a very effective, humane and innovative project to address and stabilize the deer population through a nonlethal method,” said Kristen Tullo, state director for the Humane Society.

Mt. Lebanon could ask the foundation to cover up to 100 percent of the costs, which White Buffalo president Tony DeNicola had estimated between $500 and $1,000 per deer, though the society asked for some contribution or in-kind donation from the municipality.

“We hope to provide financial assistance for this project,” Emilia Allen, program officer for the foundation, said before the meeting.

If Mt. Lebanon wanted sterilization, it would have to apply to the Game Commission to do so as a research project. The Humane Society would want the municipality to put a hold on its lethal deer-management proposals so the study results wouldn't be affected by other population-reduction methods.

DeNicola said that with sufficient funding, reaching the entire female deer population would be feasible and could reach Mt. Lebanon's goal in five years.

The commission approved applying to the Humane Society for the grants, even if they were moving ahead with lethal deer control at the same time. They added a caveat to the vote that said they'd take a second look before accepting the money and any conditions that came with it.

“I'd rather submit the proposal and make them say no (rather) than ignore the possibility,” Brumfield said.

That motion passed 3-2, with commissioners Steve Silverman and Coleen Vuono opposed.

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