Facing Impossible Tasks

One of the duties I had in Fairfax County Virginia was finding a way to manage the deer population in the County.  The County was entirely urban, without sufficient open space to provide for safe hunting.  The greatest predator of deer were automobiles.

I’ve always believed that intervention by humans always made a mess; however, clearly the deer population exceeded the carrying capacity of the area.  The deer had eaten all of the  vegetation within their reach and citizens were reporting that the deer were trying to eat plastic plants in their yards.  It was clear that the deer population was slowly starving.

At the time, chemical sterilants were not practical for free ranging animals.  Implanting IUDs was not being done and still might be considered impractical for a large free ranging species.  With our current technology, it came down to a kill option.

The local bow hunters had decided that the only option available to me was creating a group of bow hunters to walk through the neighborhoods and kill the deer.  For some reason they came to believe that I supported such an option.  Even an outdoor magazine printed an article about our plight and my support for bow hunters to come to the rescue.  I don’t know what I feared most, starving deer or deer walking through neighborhoods with arrows sticking out of them.

I knew that presenting a kill option would have the humane groups running me out of town; but, to present no option was not an option.  I was friendly with the Editor of the Fairfax Journal, who asked me how I could deal with a no win option.  He later quoted my answer a few months later: “When given a no win option, always have another job waiting.”

Much to my dismay, I suggested that we establish feeding sites that would draw deer into neighborhood parks and have police sharpshooters exercise “population control” from tree stands, so as to prevent overshot into neighboring houses.   A group, Hunters for the Hungry, would dress the deer to be given to people in the homeless shelters.  As you can imagine, that recommendation was hated by humane groups and sportsmen alike.  My solution made everyone angry.

It wasn’t until a local school teacher was killed in a deer/auto collision that the County Commissioners moved forward to their own plan of driving police sharpshooter through parks at night to shoot deer from the roadway.   Although effective, I worried about the officers seeing a safe backdrop in the dark.

Fairfax County still wrestles with deer population control.  Although technology has improved over time, lethal solutions have become the primary means of control wild populations.  Dealing with wildlife is a large part of providing animal control services to communities.  To avoid dealing with wildlife, many organizations place the word “domestic” in their name to show that they do not want to deal with wild species.