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The buck stops here: Tega Cay will start culling 'out of control' deer, and using birth control

A doe peers around a tree in Tega Cay, South Carolina, where residents say the deer population had grown out of control.
Mary Ickert
A doe peers around a tree in Tega Cay, South Carolina, where residents say the deer population had grown out of control.

Tega Cay, South Carolina has long been attractive to people looking to escape the city and live alongside nature, a golf course and Lake Wylie. But lately, it's also become attractive to set a new neighbors — deer, hundreds of them.

So many that the Tega Cay City Council has been looking at reducing the population either by killing some with sharpshooters, or via a proposal from a local wildlife group to shoot the deer with birth control.

At their meeting Monday night, City Council members decided: Why not try both?

Mary Ickert with the Tega Cay Wildlife Conservation Society, who had urged City Council members to take the birth control option, joined WFAE's Nick de la Canal to give her reaction to the vote.

Nick de la Canal: It's my understanding that council members last night voted to essentially hire sharpshooters to kill 80 deer — that's the limit, and then look into deploying these birth control darts maybe next spring or summer. What's your initial reaction to that decision?

Mary Ickert: Yeah, so obviously we would not prefer to have sharpshooters. You know, we've always understood that we have a lot of deer in Tega Cay, and of course, it's time to have something done.

We were hopeful that the city would implement a PZP program as a standalone, but as we learned last night they have decided to start with culling these animals first, and then hopefully work with us getting PZP up and going for the future.

De la Canal: The city estimates there are more than 1,000 deer on the peninsula. Can you give us a sense of what that looks like on the ground, and how much of a problem is it?

Ickert: That's a good question, Nick. I actually live on the peninsula myself. Me personally, never would have thought we had 1,000 deer back here. You know I definitely see deer every day. They walk through my yard. Sometimes they're in a herd of six to eight, and sometimes they're a doe with their fawns. We have plenty of neighbors though that say they see up to 50 deer in their yard on a daily basis.

De la Canal: I know people have talked about deer eating their grass and their plants and you know pooping everywhere —

Ickert: Well yeah, yeah, it's definitely — that's been a concern for many of folks here.

De la Canal: But is it also more than that too? I think there's been an increase in traffic accidents too involving deer?

Ickert: Actually that's not true. We actually just talked to the city about this. We lose about 150 and actually this year it's closer to 170 deer per year. And a lot of people assume that is through car accidents and only 6 deer this year were due to car versus deer incidents.

Most of the deer here that are sadly passing away are doing so just — mother nature. And a lot of them unfortunately are getting injured on fences. They'll try to jump over a clear fence and get a leg stuck, and sadly give in to those wounds.

De la Canal: Well, I guess kind of what I'm trying to get at is: Is it more of a problem from the humans, or the deer, or both?

Ickert: To me, and to many of us, this is a social issue. These animals breed like crazy, and with growth and humanity kind of building up all around them, they have nowhere to go.

And all of a sudden there's more and more and they're in your yards, and a lot of people look at them as nuisance(s), as pests. So it really is kind of subjective. There are plenty of people here that love the deer, have no issue with the deer, and other people are just sick and tired of them being around.

De la Canal: So your group had proposed shooting the deer with this birth control vaccine called PZP. Some residents who spoke at city council were concerned about the cost, I think. It would be significantly more expensive than shooting and killing the deer, and also that it could take a year or two before there's any impact. But why do you think it's still the best option?

Ickert: First of all, the numbers that were presented last night were skewed, if you will. At the end of the day, we know how much PZP costs, and we know that it is effective, and this whole thing started with us looking into a more humane alternative for managing these animals.

De la Canal: So the city has approved using sharpshooters at least in the short term, and just so people know, these will be trained shooters who will work in areas closed off to the public with safety in mind, but one of the council members last night also thanked you specifically for presenting birth control darts as an option.

Councilman Gus Matchunis: I was extremely skeptical that you could pull it off, and I congratulate you on what you did in a very short period of time. It was quite incredible and you opened all our eyes to something different. Because we basically thought we had one option and one option only.

De la Canal: Do you feel like your advocacy actually made a difference?

Ickert: Yeah, I mean this whole thing started off as a conversation with a neighbor friend of mine when they were entertaining the idea of culling and many of us were against it and decided to look into other alternatives. This definitely has been a lot of work for our group, but we believe in this program. We believe that this will work.

The fact that our city leaders did meet with us and listen to us and look at this option for PZP was definitely something we were very proud of.

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Corrected: December 24, 2023 at 8:27 AM EST
A previous transcription of this interview misquoted Ickhart as saying 60 deer were involved in traffic accidents. In fact, Ickhart said six deer had been involved in traffic accidents this year in Tega Cay.
Nick de la Canal is an on air host and reporter covering breaking news, arts and culture, and general assignment stories. His work frequently appears on air and online. Periodically, he tweets: @nickdelacanal