By Michael Daigle, DailyRecord.com
Animal rights activists are hoping that the recent approval of a new deer contraceptive provides landowners an alternative to hunting to control white tail deer.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved GonaCon, a one-shot contraceptive that in tests has shown to be effective in preventing does from becoming pregnant, in late September.
"The approval means it is no longer considered experimental," said Janet Piszar, a member of the Animal Protection League of New Jersey, based in Englishtown.
That could result in discussions by towns, counties, park commissions, farmers and other landowners about whether to use the drug.
David Helmer, executive director of the Morris County Park Commission, said the commission will begin to discuss the possible use of GonaCon next year.
The park commission allows hunting in its parks at certain times. On Monday, Loantaka Brook Reservation will be closed all day for a hunt. Park officials said that reducing the size of the deer herd in county parks protects trees and flowers from destruction, which helps maintain a balanced ecosystem. The park commission has installed a fence around Frelinghuysen Arboretum in Morris Township to protect gardens there.
Since 2008, 413 deer have been killed in county parks by hunters.
Hunts are scheduled at Loantaka, Mount Hope Historical Park, Bamboo Brook Outdoor Education Center and Willowwood Arboretum, Lewis Morris County Park and Pyramid Mountain Natural Historic Area. The schedule is available at www.morrisparks.net.
The National Park Service is considering a deer hunt at Jockey Hollow, which is part of the Morristown National Historic Park, but that decision is awaiting approval of funding.
White-tailed deer have been classified by the EPA as a public health pest because they cause motor vehicle accidents and host deer ticks that may cause Lyme disease.
White-tailed deer populations have become overabundant in some suburban areas and are considered a year-round nuisance causing many human-wildlife conflicts, the EPA said. Because these areas typically don't allow hunting, there has not been an economically feasible solution to control deer populations, the department said.
New Jersey has about 140,000 white tail deer, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection. Last year, hunters killed 53,260 deer, the department said. GonaCon has been in development for nearly 30 years, Piszar said. It stimulates the development of hormones that reduce the animal's sexual activity, delivered by an injection after the deer has been trapped. The animal is tagged and released.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which developed the drug, conducted two field tests in 2004 and 2005.
A test in Maryland in 2004 showed an 88 percent effectiveness rate. A 2005 test at Giralda Farms in Madison showed 67 percent effectiveness the first year and 48 percent effectiveness the second year.