Chicago suburb sterilizes deer instead of killing them

Wednesday, March 27, 2002

HIGHLAND PARK, Ill. -- Officials in this Lake County community are hoping to surgically sterilize 20 white-tail does in a project other deer-plagued cities are watching.

Highland Park is the only community in Illinois to receive a research permit to conduct a sterilization program, said Marty Jones, urban deer project manager for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. The city has joined with the University of Wisconsin at Madison and the Milwaukee County Zoo for the project.

As U.S deer herds reach their highest levels in two centuries, some who are trying to find non-lethal strategies to curb the deer population say sterilization could be the answer.

"Based on what we know about deer behavior, our hunch is that permanently sterilizing does can effectively reduce deer populations long-term," said Dr. Bob MacLean, a veterinarian hired by Highland Park who is affiliated with the University of Wisconsin.

Fourteen does have been sterilized so far in the Highland Park project that started in late January and is expected to end this month.

The goal of the experiment is to prove that sterilization works, MacLean said. If it succeeds, he said state and federal officials might accept the procedure as a management tool to control deer herds.

Wildlife experts estimate 750,000 deer live in Illinois. Although the overall herd hasn't dramatically increased in the last decade as it has in other states, the suburban deer population has soared, experts say.

Last year, nearly 400 people joined a lawsuit against Highland Park after the city announced plans to kill 20 deer. The sterilization experiment has been more warmly received.

"This is a very progressive program that could become a model for other cities," said Hillary Ross, who initiated the lawsuit.

The cost of the sterilization program, proposed last summer by Elizabeth "Bess" Franks, curator of large mammals at the Milwaukee County Zoo, is $156,000. It could grow to $360,000 if the program is extended to four years, Highland Park Councilman Pete Koukos said.

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