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Hunters can help limit some of the overabundance of white tail deer in the Northeast but can't help curtail problems in suburban areas, wildlife biologists noted Friday during the fifth annual meeting of The Wildlife Society here.

"There's so much acreage that cannot be hunted," Tommy L. Brown of Cornell University told participants in the national conference. "We've had to go to 'bait and shoot' programs here in New York."

Hunters took record numbers of deer in 13 states in 1996 or 1997, he added, but studies have shown that the number of hunters peaked in the early 1980s and has been in slow decline.

State agencies rely on hunters to kill enough deer to allow herds to winter over without starvation, setting goals for small geographical "deer management units" based on estimates of food supplies.

The practice, though, has conflicting problems. Biologists noted that hunters often aren't successful enough, but when they do start thinning the herds toward the goal levels they often use political clout to change management policies.

"Even though hunters were experiencing more harvest, they still weren't satisfied," said Pennsylvania Game Commission biologist Brett Wallingford, describing trends since 1988 in his state. "They wanted to see more deer."

By the time people actually start seeing the elusive deer in a forest, others noted, the forest is being significantly damaged by over-browsing. While agencies are planning educational programs and considering longer seasons or other ways of increasing the take of deer -- and especially does -- biologists here saw a need for better science in setting goals.

In communities that have ruled out hunting as an option, debates still continue over deer-control methods. In Amherst, delays have plagued a two-year effort to launch a study of immunocontraception as a way to deal with an overabundance of deer.

The national Wildlife Society meeting, which has drawn more than 1,000 participants to the Buffalo Convention Center and the Buffalo Hyatt Regency, ends today.

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