Deer solution upsets several
The Brunswick News
Sarah Lundgren
July 22, 2014



The plan: federal sharpshooters. Members of the Jekyll Island Authority did not commit to it during the board meeting Monday but did agree to consider it as a way to control an overpopulation of deer.

Mindy Egan of Save Jekyll Island is not waiting to see what the board decides and is already asking anyone opposed to the idea to contact Gov. Nathan Deal, who appoints members to the island authority.

The recommendation Monday stems from research presented last November by Jekyll Island Authority Conservation Director Ben Carswell that supported a 2011 claim by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources that there are too many deer on Jekyll Island. Citing negative effects on plant and animal life, which included the deer themselves, due to increased herd density, Carswell proposed bringing a committee together to study population control methods.
The committee considered relocation, sterilization and contraception methods, as well as the reintroduction of natural predators like bobcats.

Carswell says based on discussions with committee members and others, the option that fit the committee's required criteria best would be to contract with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services sharpshooters' group.

Carswell said an initial contract with Wildlife Services indicated sharpshooters would cost around $10,000 and would include the harvesting of 80 deer. Spotlight studies over the past few years put the deer population somewhere between 70 and 140 deer per square mile on the 7 mile island.

Subsequent years would cost less, he said, adding that controlled public hunting is off the table for the moment but could continue in the discussion.

Carswell said it would be a genuine harvest in which the meat would be donated to places like the White Oak Wildlife Conservation Facility in Florida and America's Second Harvest.

"People really need to understand that we will always have white tail deer on Jekyll Island," he said. "They're an important part of ecology. We're just trying to restore balance."

Jekyll Island residents spoke against an agreement between the island and the Wildlife Services group. At least 10 residents, including Egan, expressed concerns with the federal organization's reputation.

A few of the speakers pointed to a current congressional inquiry into the group's methods, which has prompted conservationists to dub the group a "renegade federal agency."

A few speakers were concerned with the lack of accountability a federal agency would have should personal property be damaged.

A common request was for the board and JIA staff to take more time to research the options, particularly the method of contraception.

Carswell had said staff concerns with contraception included financial strain, the amount of time needed to perform tasks and that the drugs involved are still considered experimenta.

"One of our committee members, Dr. Bob Warren with UGA, who served on our Jekyll Island Deer Management Committee, has presented the costs based on information summarized from various studies for various methods of deer population reduction," Carswell said. "He estimates the average cost per deer of fertility control at over $800 per deer."

Carswell added that DNR has already said it would not provide permits for a contraception or sterilization program, so the avenue wasn't pursued more thoroughly.

He estimates the cost of a professional harvest is about $125 per deer.

Residents felt differently.

"Deer contraception has evolved," Egan said. "It can now be administered more safely and cheaply through a dart... and it's on the cusp of being approved by the Environmental Protection Agency."

SBlt Reporter Sarah Lundgren writes about education and other local topics. Contact her at slundgren@thebrunswicknews.com, on Facebook or at 265-8320, ext. 322.