Panel considers deer sharpshooters
The Brunswick News
March 19, 2014
By SARAH LUNDGREN

A committee studying the overpopulation of white-tailed deer on Jekyll Island is waiting for information on the feasibility of bringing in federal sharpshooters before deciding what to do about the problem.

With more than 100 deer per square mile on the 9-square-mile island, Ben Carswell, conservation director for the Jekyll Island Authority, is creating a control plan that could include hiring sharpshooters to cull the herd or introducing predators to the state park.

The committee, which has met twice, is waiting to hear from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service for information on the sharpshooter option before reporting to the authority that operates the island park.

"They can provide a sharpshooting service to control the deer and reduce the herd," Carswell said. "We haven't decided that that's what we will do, but they are the only group (the state Department of Natural Resources) would permit ... to do that service."

The authority has been wrestling with the size of the deer population for some time and was advised by the DNR in 2011 to thin out the herd. The authority rejected the recommendation to act, preferring, instead, to study the situation.

Carswell said he is supposed to hear from the USDA by the end of the month on what sharpshooters would cost.

The sharpshooting service is only one potential strategy. Others the committee has discussed include controlled hunting and reintroduction of native predators, such as bobcats. Controlling reproduction is another option under review.

Since 2011, JIA's conservation team has researched the island's deer population, its health and habitat, how it affects vegetation and other ramifications. By the end of 2013, Carswell concluded the assessment by the DNR was accurate: There are too many deer on Jekyll Island.

Carswell says he will speak to the authority at its April meeting about the USDA estimates to see if the sharpshooting is financially possible.

The committee is made up of several members of JIA's internal conservation committee, representatives of the DNR Wildlife Resources Division Game Management and Non-game Conservation sections, a wildlife biologist from the University of Georgia and a Jekyll Island resident.

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