The state Department of Environmental Conservation fully supports a proposed deer immunocontraception project in Amherst, James R. Snider, senior wildlife biologist, told the Amherst Town Board Monday.
Snider reviewed permits and planning required before the project can begin late next summer and said: "There is no doubt in my mind it's going to be an approvable project at some point in time."
The Town Board met with Snider in preparation for deciding whether to accept the town's selection by the Humane Society of the United States as one of the nation's first few test sites for administering a contraceptive vaccine to free-roaming deer.
Snider said the Humane Society research will eventually influence deer management on a state and national scale.
In Amherst, "if it works, we'll document that; if it doesn't work, we'll document that," the DEC official told the board at its afternoon work session.
The project is important locally because "it may determine this town's course for deer management in the future," Snider said.
The first-year cost of the recommended five-year project is more than covered by a $20,000 donation by Amherst businessman Ronald Benderson.
"This five-year project will contribute to national data on how to control free-roaming deer populations," said Council Member Peggy Santillo.
Research is scheduled to start late next August with the vaccination of female deer in the Great Baehre Swamp, a wooded wetland of several hundred acres ringed by residential neighborhoods in the town's geographic mid-section.
An estimated 30 deer live in Great Baehre during the summer and 80 to 100 in winter.
"You're probably dealing with the best-fed deer population in town, with the people feeding them corn now and their best shrubs in winter," Snider said.
The results in Great Baehre will determine if the project is eventually expanded to other parts of town, where deer-car accidents are reported on the rise again.
"If it works there, we'll probably say let's go ahead in the rest of the town," Snider said.
But Snider added that he hopes the research project does not lead the Town Board to halt bait-and-shoot and nuisance-permit hunting in areas outside Great Baehre, especially on farm and forest land in north Amherst.
"It will take a combination of things" to keep the deer population "at a tolerable level for the time being," Snider told the board.
He said bait-and-shoot and nuisance-permit hunting since 1993 have reduced the deer count an estimated 20 to 30 percent.
An accurate deer census is critical to the five-year immunocontraception project in Great Baehre because it's the only way to gauge the results, Snider said.
Deer will be ear-tagged when vaccinated, and tracking their seasonal movements should be no problem with hundreds of potential volunteer spotters available, the state biologist said.
"There's enough interest in this town to document every single ear-tagged deer," Snider said.
Snider reminded the Town Board that, sooner or later, Amherst must decide how many deer it wants within its 54 square miles so that management efforts can be adjusted accordingly.